by Saransh Gupta
Giving citizens free money has been proposed by many countries and governments. Most recently, presidential candidates in the 2016 and 2020 elections, like Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, have supported strengthening the social safety net with some form of cash payments to citizens. However, according to Pew Research Lab, nearly “54 percent of U.S. adults either strongly or somewhat oppose [a UBI of $1,000 to all adult citizens]” (Majority Oppose Universal Basic Income 2020). During the pandemic, a time of skyrocketing unemployment, a universal basic income (UBI) may be a solution to preventing poverty in urban areas despite citizens’ concerns about basic income.
Although a UBI of $500 to $2000 USD may not be enough to completely support citizens, a UBI can have a large economic impact on citizens living near the poverty line, and at a lesser expense to the nation than some might expect. Studies done by researchers at the University of South Dakota found that “nearly all participants” would use the time and money gained from a UBI to “pursue productive activities” (The Effect of a Universal Basic Income on Life Decisions: Evidence from a Student Lab Experiment 2019). Furthermore, a UBI isn’t a singular policy that can’t be changed. Many UBI policies, such as those tested in Canada, Finland, Brazil, and the United States, differed in eligibility, income amount, and frequency.
UBI can be the solution to many societal problems by economically supporting low income entrepreneurs and single parents. Projects like the Magnolia Mothers Trust provide a UBI specifically targeted to help black low-income mothers. “Through the pilot program, the amount of mothers that were able to provide 3 meals a day to their family nearly tripled. The program also showed to have lasting effects, with over $10,000 in debt being paid off and 100% of participants feeling hopeful about their future” (Magnolia Mother's Trust). Projects like Runaway provide small business loans to black entrepreneurs similar to a UBI, with great results; not a single business in their pilot program closed down due to pandemic shutdowns.
However, according to economics teacher Kevin Waller, “programs like UBI require a great amount of [private and public] support”, which can often fluctuate in economic downturns such as in our current pandemic. Taxes have been cut during the pandemic for certain income groups and small businesses in the United States, which can lessen the reserves that programs such as UBI depend on. It is important for policymakers and non-profit organizations to consider the support that a UBI program might have within their community before implementing it.
According to business teacher Carol Uhl-Alba, “UBI can have a great impact on urban communities”. It’s important for both citizens and policymakers to consider the positive impact that a UBI could have on their community.