World watching as Ontario copies Dauphin income experiment, says economist

An economist who studied Manitoba's experiment with minimum income in the 1970s says social scientists the world over will be interested to see how Ontario's rebirth of the program will play out.

Minimum income experiment in small Manitoba town to be revived in three Ontario cities

Evelyn Forget, a health economist with the University of Manitoba, says she is excited to see what effect mincome has in 2017 after studying its positive effects on Dauphin, Man., in the 1970s. (Dauphin Economic Development/Facebook)

An economist who studied Manitoba's experiment with minimum income in the 1970s says social scientists the world over will be interested to see how Ontario's rebirth of the program will play out.

On Monday, Ontario's Liberals announced a three-year pilot project in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay to see if providing residents with a basic income will improve social indicators like health outcomes and education.

​"I think it's really exciting," said Evelyn Forget, a health economist with the University of Manitoba who in 2010 began looking at how Dauphin residents fared while receiving mincome or a guaranteed income.

"The world has changed since the 1970s," she said. "Employment itself has changed a lot."

She said a fresh look at mincome in 2017 will give economists a clue into how this type of safety net might help workers of today — people navigating a much less predicable job market.

"In the 1970s people still expected to graduate from high school and to get a full-time job and to work for the same firm or industry for their entire career," she said. That's hardly the case now.

From 1974 to 1978, 30 per cent of Dauphin's population was provided with a guaranteed level of income from the federal government.

After interviewing participants in the study, Forget discovered high school completion rates increased during the experiment among young men.

"So instead of leaving school without complete high school and going to work, some of these boys decided to stay in school a little bit longer and to graduate," she said.

She also found a drop in mental health issues in the community.

They were less likely to be be complaining of depression or anxiety," she said.

 "We found a significant reduction in hospitalizations. In fact an eight and a half per cent reduction," she said.

Mincome in 2017 might help bridge gaps between short-term contracts so many young people entering the work force have to contend with.

"It can help make life a little bit easier for people trying to navigate this brave new world of employment that's very different from what it used to be."

with files from Up to Speed