Capitalism and the free market are often celebrated by conservative and liberal politicians alike, who idealize it as the ultimate system to breed innovation. But few seem to consider the inequities, barriers, and cruelties often rooted in race, class, and gender that determine who has the time and ability to have dreams, to ideate and innovate.

Tia, a mother from a previous Magnolia Mother’s Trust cohort, recounted in Ms. magazine being able to see her father for the first time in 20 years, and introduce her children to their grandfather for the first time, with the help of the program. Tia’s father didn’t live out-of-country; he was in Pennsylvania, but for nearly two decades, she didn’t have enough disposable income to make the trip.

Another mother from a previous cohort, Danel, grew up in the foster system and wrote in Ms. that “things get tough” caring for her two kids while she pursues an advanced teaching degree. She said she aspires to open a daycare center in Jackson, and the monthly payments would help her pay off her student loans and move into a house. A mother named Roneisha shared how the program helped with her depression and anxiety, not just through its cash payments, but the support system, check-ins, and affirmations it provides. There is life-changing potential in guaranteed income for people who can use it to live fuller, freer, and frankly happier lives.

Low-income Black mothers face racist and sexist criticism

Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, tells Jezebel the idea for the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program emerged when she realized that through “every conversation we had with low-income families, almost every challenge could be addressed if a family simply had more financial resources.”

Poverty and wealth inequality in the U.S. are vastly skewed by race and gender—year after year, women are more likely than men to live in poverty. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women. Racism and sexism are inseparable from economic injustice in America, Nyandoro says, and this is part of why people who experience poverty are so often blamed for their own suffering, and pushback and misconceptions about social safety net programs and guaranteed income are so prevalent. You’ll recall that one of the reasons Senator Joe Manchin reportedly opposed renewing the Child Tax Credit was his belief that low-income parents would use it to buy drugs.

Manchin is hardly the only member of Congress who holds conservative values, while simultaneously shaping economic policy around racist, sexist, and classist assumptions that harm families of color. For all the fearmongering about America’s supposedly declining birth rates, the U.S. is a uniquely terrible place to start a family, especially for low-income women of color, and Black and brown women in particular. Proposed policies to marginally improve their lives and their children’s lives are routinely defeated by ostensibly “pro-life” lawmakers, like a Republican Congress member who literally asked Congress why male taxpayers should have to pay for prenatal health care in a 2017 debate about the Affordable Care Act. Male though he may be, you’ll note he’s alive today because someone once birthed him.

In the U.S., the challenges of parenting, especially for single mothers of color, extend beyond lacking paid family and maternity leave. Parents are left to fend for themselves amid high costs of child care, primary education, health care, housing, food, and college. Without the aid of generational wealth or livable wages amid almost unprecedented inflation rates, affording even the most basic resources needed to parent has become an increasingly herculean task for low-income parents.

“We don’t understand how poverty works within this country, where so many people believe poverty is a behavioral choice, a moral failing,” Nyandoro said. “We blame individuals for being poor, without really looking at how the system is intentionally designed to make it virtually impossible to exit poverty within this country—especially if you are of a certain gender, a certain race, a certain class of demographic.”

Halbert passionately echoed this sentiment. “Deep down, nobody really knows what another person needs,” she said. “Everybody’s life is affected in different ways—you never know why people are in poverty, why they might need money.”

Not all guaranteed income proposals are rooted in economic justice

Even before covid, visibility around guaranteed income received a boost from venture capitalist Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign. Yang centered what he called a “freedom dividend” in his platform, but progressive critics pointed out how his plan failed to enact meaningful wealth redistribution, relying on an increased value-added tax (similar to a sales tax) rather than a wealth tax, all while being touted as a substitute for publicly funded health care and education. The proposal was ultimately rooted in the wealth inequality it purported to address. Yang’s freedom dividend mirrors similar pitches couched in libertarian rhetoric from billionaire technocrats like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, all transparently invested in prioritizing their own class interests and sticking a band-aid of sorts on capitalism.

Despite these noted wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program shows guaranteed income can still be one of the simplest and most transformative ways to address poverty in the nation. But any public policy that offers guaranteed income should center racial justice and the voices of low-income Black mothers, as Springboard to Opportunities does, rather than billionaire interests. Black mothers, unlike wealthy men, know where that money can do the most good.

At the end of a Magnolia Mother’s Trust cohort, Nyandoro says mothers stay in the community and remain in contact with the Springboard team. Many are able to build savings, afford better housing, or complete higher education and advanced degrees. They have opportunities to experience greater joy without being constrained by endless struggles to make ends meet.

When Halbert first joined Magnolia Mother’s Trust, she told Jezebel she was excited to be one of many moms like her, helping each other, learning each other’s stories, and becoming part of something bigger than themselves. “I needed that help, from [Springboard], from the other mothers,” she said. “Now, I want to and am able to be someone who helps others.”