WASHINGTON — Aaliyah Manning’s dreams of becoming a psychologist ended abruptly during her freshman year at Potomac State in West Virginia when the cost of continuing her education became overwhelming.
“The money just wasn’t there,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to finish so I just had fun.”
After a year, Manning, 25, was back in the nation’s capital working fast food jobs. Now she lives largely on public assistance in a two-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend, his mother and his 9-year-old daughter from another relationship. She still has student debt and there’s a baby boy on the way.
She sees a brighter future for that baby, thanks to a landmark social program being pioneered in Washington. Called “Baby Bonds,” the program will provide children of the city’s poorest families with up to $25,000 when they reach adulthood. The money is to be used for a handful of purposes, including education.
“It would be such a different opportunity for him, a lot different than what I had,” Manning said of her soon-to-arrive baby.
In just over a decade, the Baby Bonds idea has moved from a fringe leftist concept to actual policy, with the District of Columbia as the first laboratory. Lawmakers from coast to coast are monitoring the experiment, one that proponents say could reshape America’s growing wealth gap in a single generation if instituted on a federal level.
For a Baby Bonds program to succeed, it has to be on a national level and have strong popular support, advocates said.
Darity, a Duke professor who co-authored the original Baby Bonds proposal, points to Britain, which instituted a similar program called the child trust fund in 2005. But the program was discontinued and all future payments halted in 2010 in a government austerity campaign.
“I think the assessment in England was that they had not built grassroots support for the policy when they started it,” he said. “So there wasn’t any strong resistance to eliminating the plan.”
In the United States, the program already has been strongly endorsed by prominent liberal organizations such as the Urban Institute and Prosperity Now.