New Basic Income Plans Divide Midwest


The writer is a Chicago-based, collaborating columnist

Money for doing nothing. In the American Midwest, with its legacy of a borderline work ethic, such an idea is too easy to pillory. But now Chicago, the largest city in the Midwest, has launched one of the largest unconditional cash payment programs in the United States. This is the latest iteration of an idea that is becoming America’s newest weapon in a decades-long battle against urban poverty.

The pandemic prompted a rethinking of America’s social contract on a scale not seen since my childhood in the 1960s – when white America apparently first discovered black poverty. Now, flush with federal funding for the pandemic, at least 32 US cities are piloting “basic income” payments, typically to their poorest residents, according to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Chicago budgeted $ 31.5 million to give 5,000 low-income households $ 500 a month for one year without strings attached. Los Angeles will pay 3000 people $ 1,000 per month for one year.

“The pandemic has illustrated that you can give people money, and America is still America, it has not become a socialist nation, the flag is still red, white and blue,” Michael said. Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, Calif., Referring to Federal Pandemic Stimulus Cash. As mayor in 2019, Tubbs started paying 125 residents $ 500 per month for two years, and now he is leading Mayors for a guaranteed income.

The Stockton participants spent at least a third of the money on food, and some beneficiaries used the money to find full time jobs. “It shows that something as small as $ 500 can be a hindrance for people to get to work, maybe it’s the cost of dry cleaning a security guard uniform, a small one.” supplement for childcare or the possibility of being absent for an interview for a full period. work on time, ”says Tubbs. He says that poverty “is not a moral but a systemic failure”.

Zohna, 50, told the FT that she cried when she received her first Stockton check for $ 500; she had to pull herself together before she said, “I didn’t realize how much I needed help.” “I paid my tithing (at the church), I set up my car insurance and my electricity bill to pay automatically, I put gasoline in my car,” he says. she. Now the payments are over and Zohna is fighting the effects of the ‘long Covid’ which is keeping her out of the workforce. She even struggles to pay her tithing at church, which she considers her biggest bill of all, and her car has been repossessed.

Nationally, Democrats and people of color generally support a “guaranteed” or basic income much more strongly than Republicans and whites, according to the. UBI survey follow-up, which follows a poll on the subject. Michael Faulkender, who was the senior U.S. Treasury official responsible for implementing the Paycheque Protection Program in the Trump administration, is among those who oppose no-work cash payments. “Our economy today has many jobs that require minimum skills,” he told the FT, noting that many employers are still struggling to fill vacant positions. “You don’t fix poverty by creating dependency,” he says.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas, one of the driving forces behind the new Chicago pilot, who will start next year, told me that “no one is going to quit their job for $ 6,000 a year” given the high cost of living. in this Midwestern town. He credits his widowed mother $ 800 a month, in the form of Social Security survivor benefits, for allowing his family to survive after his father died when he was eight years old.

But are we just reinventing the wheel? Many anti-poverty payments in the 1960s and 1970s had no work obligations and largely failed to eradicate poverty. “I think there are a lot of things that people have short memories of. . . or they think it will work this time because I manage it, ”says Faulkender, noting that American society came to a consensus in the 1990s to reimpose work requirements for some income support. But Tubbs says the United States is “just picking up where Great Society (Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty) left off.”

Basic Income is an idea as old as Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, and Milton Friedman, all of whom have supported some version of it. Perhaps it was an idea that needed a pandemic to prove its time had come.


Comments are closed.