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Growing Support for Universal Basic Income

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In the UBI-government guaranteed job debate, I remain pretty strongly in the latter category, for reasons I have laid out here and here and probably other places too.

However, right now, there’s no question that UBI is a necessary response to COVID-19. That’s essentially what the expanded unemployment benefits have been and…it’s worked great! What’s particularly notable about the idea that it is gaining momentum within the Democratic power structure, especially at the mayoral level.

More than 50 years later, the concept of a universal basic income has grown as closely associated with job-killing robots as civil rights. But the need to explore regular, unconditional cash payments as a means of achieving racial and economic justice is more urgent than ever, says Mayor Michael Tubbs, who is leading one of the first major U.S. basic income experiments in his hometown of Stockton, California. Since February 2019, Tubbs has been working with researchers to disburse $500 a month to 125 residents.

“It’s important for me that any discussion of a basic income is grounded in those roots, and understand that it’s not a new conversation,” he said. “With the twin pandemics of racism and Covid-19, it’s time for us to extend the social safety net.” 

This week, Tubbs announced the formation of the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income Coalition, a group of city leaders who have committed to investigating how to launch direct guaranteed income projects in their communities, and advocating for state and federal solutions.

The majority of the mayors are Black, and hail from places like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Compton, Newark, Shreveport, St. Paul, and Jackson, Mississippi; the 11 cities they govern have a collective population of 7 million, and more cities expected to join. (Pittsburgh’s Bill Peduto announced that he’s number 12, in a tweet.)

“We don’t necessarily agree on everything, but we do agree that our constituents deserve an income floor,” Tubbs said of the group. 

Details are scarce as to what cities will launch local UBI pilots, and when. But the group endorsement has another, broader, goal: raising consciousness about the transformative power of no-strings-attached cash. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang may have helped make UBI a household concept last year, but as the country confronts those “twin pandemics,” Tubbs has founda fitting moment to drive home the vision.

I still see a lot of problems with these plans so long as they replace already existing welfare benefits. As an addition to those benefits, I totally support the idea. And as I’ve said all along, if we end up in a position where there is a serious chance that a universal basic income can pass, I am happy to be on board for that experiment. If that’s where the energy is, I’m not going to fight it, even if I may express my concerns over the policy implementation.

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