Universal Basic Income means a check in the hands of all adult citizens regardless of job or financial status.
The idea has been kicked around for decades, but almost as a laughing point for mainstream politicians. Until New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang made it a major part of his platform in his race for the Democratic nomination for president — $1,000 per month, every month, for adult Americans.
“It should be a universal basic income for all American adults, no strings attached, a foundation on which a stable, prosperous, and just society can be built,” Yang said during the campaign.
Yang’s candidacy never gained traction. But for the first time, the media debated at a high level standard monthly income for every adult as a plausible subject.
Then Spain and Finland put plans in action for UBI. (The term has gained universal popularity.) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave some credence to the idea of some form of UBI. Then Pope Francis stunned the world with UBI support.
Now coronavirus has kicked it up to a whole new level.
Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney shocked fellow Republicans when he came out in favor of stimulus checks for all during the pandemic. That idea slowly gained traction in Congress, where both parties convinced President Donald Trump that $1,200 stimulus checks for almost all were needed.
It’s far short of what Yang and other UBI supporters want. But Yang has praised the stimulus checks as a step in the right direction.
Bipartisan opinion on UBI prior to coronavirus is generally split between hopes of stimulating the economy (mainly Democrats) and fear that it may discourage working (mainly Republicans.)
Students at Chapman University echo these fears.
Yang called his plan a Freedom Dividend. His idea was to alleviate poverty and increase purchasing power. But before Yang, most Chapman students had not even heard of UBI.
Some 55 percent of all Chapman undergraduates take out federal student loans, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Student loan debt averages $28,000 after graduation at Chapman. UBI could help take the pressure off that student debt. But few Chapman students realized that connection.
Liberal students, in general, support the concept of UBI, however, getting the policy implemented is not a top priority for a lot of them. Max Lopez, a junior double major in political science and peace studies and president of the Chapman Democrats club, is one of them Lopez — prior to the coronavirus pandemic — said other issues deserved more attention.
“While I do think that it is a good way to mitigate the effects of automation, I think that there are other policies that are also needed,” Lopez said. “I do not care if a candidate has UBI in their platform. I think that UBI is a good idea with a lot of potential, but there are issues such as foreign policy, climate change, and healthcare which are more important to me.”
But UBI does have some strong supporters on campus.
Joy Joukhadar, a freshman journalism and sociology major who was an active Bernie Sanders supporter, believes UBI would give Americans basic security.
“At least you could pay off partial rent, at least you could have money to feed yourself, at least you can afford an outfit for an interview,” Joukhadar said.
Some conservatives on campus are split on the issue. Fear was expressed that UBI would de-incentivize those entering the workforce.
“I believe in working for the money that you have, whereas UBI grants money to people regardless of their employment status,” said sophomore Justin Buckner, broadcast journalism and documentary film major. “The massive welfare programs already make up a majority of the US federal budget, which I argue is absurd.”
UBI would take too much money out of the working class’s paycheck for others who are unwilling to work, said Bukner.
“The UBI program would absolutely lower one’s incentive to work because they know the government will always take care of them,” he added. “You already see this in the current welfare programs going on today, to increase the government assistance will only worsen the problem.”
Kyle Hampton, a professor of economics, feels that reasons to support UBI are not limited to caring for our own community members but can also help grow the economy.
“It’s not just about social justice, not about what’s fair,” Hampton said. “If you are just a horrible GOP slug, and all you care about is growth, you want economic growth you want an economy that’s fast, I think that whatever we lose in terms of productivity from people dropping out of the workforce we more than gain by giving people the freedom to find their spot where they are going to be the most productive,” he added.
Hampton believes that UBI could be a way to help citizens out of poverty traps without de-incentivizing those entering the workforce. He worries about the population of people stuck in poverty who stress about their situations but won’t leave their jobs to search for another.
“Do you know how critical it is that people sort themselves into the best jobs for their talents in order for us to get the most production we can within our society? They need some sort of ability to be able to move between jobs to go and get more training to go and again it’s not just about training, it’s also what is your bliss,” Hampton said. “What do you love, what can you be good at? You need to experiment, you need to figure these things out. All the skills that you are learning, your 20s are going to be hustle town, you are going to learn 99.9 percent of what you need to do on your job doing your job,” he added.
Hampton is a firm believer that people shouldn’t be stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy.
“We got too many people that are doing jobs they don’t like, that they are bad at. This is bad for our economy. But if you had that ability to take that time and not put your family at risk, not starve to death, not possibly lose everything you’ve got that little bit,” he said.
Yang may be out of the race but UBI has remained an active idea.
“I don’t think UBI will be forgotten anytime soon because he planted the seed. Now people know about it, people want it to happen, that’s not gonna go away just because Yang did,” Joukhadar said.
However, United States citizens might be seeing universal basic income in practice sooner than expected. With the United States in a national state of emergency and Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the economy, the United States Treasury Department is looking to lessen the economic impact as people have been advised to stay indoors and may not be able to work.
Now there is talk in Washington of at least one more stimulus check for all adults who paid taxes.
And what does Yang think of the UBI movement he has led?
In a recent interview, he offered this comparison to the current stimulus checks:
“The fundamentals are identical in terms of cash transfers directly to individuals and households. The big difference is that I suggested we should implement this in perpetuity because I believe that it should be a basic right of citizenship to have a certain level of resources to be able to meet your basic needs.”