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Finland's basic income experiment hits the halfway mark

Those taking part in the trial reported they were happier and healthier than others in a control group.
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HELSINKI, Finland — An experiment which offered unemployed people $636 a month with no questions asked seems to have increased participants' general well-being — but failed to spur them to work and earn more as hoped, Finnish officials said Friday.

A report by Finland's Social Insurance Institution, or Kela, looked at the first half of the two-year pilot project. However, Kela said that "it was not yet possible to draw any firm conclusions" from the trial.

During the experiment, 2,000 randomly chosen unemployed Finns aged 25-58 became the first Europeans to enjoy a guaranteed basic income. They are receiving a monthly tax-free paycheck of 560 euros ($636) from the state for two years with no strings attached, regardless of whether they find work or not.

Proponents say that basic income can empower people to start new businesses, knowing that they would continue to receive monthly income no matter how well their new venture does. Critics say it would merely reduce incentives for people to look for work.

Health and Social Affairs Minister Pirkko Mattila said "the impact on employment seems to have been minor" so far.

However, those taking part in the trial reported they were happier and healthier than others in a control group.

Finland is looking into ways to reshape its social security system and became in January 2017 the first European country to launch the experiment, which will end in 2020.

The trial offers a safety net for those who cannot or choose not to work, while also seeking to encourage them to take often low-paid or temporary jobs without fear of losing their benefits.

Minna Ylikanno, a researcher with Kela, said the basic income recipients appeared less stressed, healthier and more confident in the future than a 5,000-member control group of social benefit recipients.

The report also found that those on basic income and the unemployed people in the control group ended up working roughly the same number of days.