Not a Novel Idea
There are multiple proposals and approaches to UBI, but if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s pretty straight forward. UBI is a guaranteed minimum income for everyone in the United States or every citizen. The amount may vary from proposal to proposal. As might a maximum income requirement (millionaires and billionaires might not receive UBI in some proposals).
UBI might sound like a unique idea, but it isn’t really. With the wealth disparity in this country growing beyond Depression-era levels. With the increasing threat of automation. The basic concept that no one would want for housing or food despite being unable to find a job or a job that pays enough on which to survive is a worthy one.
Though maybe not exactly a “universal basic income,” the idea of Social Security in the U.S. relies on a lot of the same arguments and it got its start way back in the 20s.
Is UBI an Entitlement for “Lazy People”?
Ultimately, my answer to this is simply “no”. However, given my experience in the last week or so, I’ve been giving this question some thought.
Neoliberals and conservatives in general all oppose UBI because they say that, among other things, it’s a handout to people who don’t otherwise want to work. The same has been said about welfare programs for years.
Are they right? Sure. There are always going to be people who want to try to game the system, want something for nothing. And if given the opportunity they’ll collect a government “hand out” rather than work for a living. But a plethora of data suggests those UBI and welfare opponents simply hate poor people, rather than have a substantive point. Yes, there are outliers, though they are the exception rather than the rule.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working in Moss Point, MS on GOTV efforts for this year’s election. Though my job has been primarily one of facilitation and training, I’ve been interacting daily with our paid canvassers.
“My” team has been tasked with canvassing all, or a major chunk, of Jefferson County, which is largely rural. While the Minimum Wage here is set at the federal $7.25, we’re paying our canvassers $15 an hour. Obviously a coveted wage out here, we’ve had folks from all over knocking down our door for an opportunity to do a little work and make good money.
And the vast majority of my canvassers are fantastic. Really good, hard-working people with good hearts who are just trying to get by. A few, though, would complain. “I don’t want to go out that far.”
“I don’t need to do the role-playing.” Or, “I don’t need anyone checking up on me.” Or, “I’m driving my own car.” And on and on. They’d give me grief over arguably stupid stuff.
In my life, I’ve never had a job where I’d basically refuse to do what my boss asked of me. I showed up, I did the job and at the end of the day, if I was frustrated, I’d complain out loud to myself (or to those willing to listen). Then I’d go back the next day.
So, I wondered to myself (and my teammate) whether that attitude displayed by those few was the reason they couldn’t hold down a job. But I shook my head, grumbled to myself again, then went back to work.
The Welfare Trap
I’ve also been perplexed by and frustrated for a few who said they couldn’t do the work because the relatively high wage would put their welfare and/or section 8 housing in jeopardy. This is the result of income limits on federal poverty programs. Rise above the ceiling just a bit and floating up a smelly creek without a paddle.
The folks in that situation I dealt with here genuinely wanted to work, but were so fearful of losing benefits they counted on to survive, they opted out.
Congress, so bogged down in privileged ignorance and petty political infighting, has utterly and completely failed to address income limits for their poverty programs and the reality of the growing wage gap in the U.S. While these same dynamics make it unlikely we’ll see a Universal Basic Income anytime soon, my experience here in Mississippi have only served to emphasize its urgent necessity.