Income inequality has robbed so many Americans of a basic standard of living. While the GOP leadership treats our national wealth like a grab bag for corporate interests and personal gain, regular wage-earners find themselves strapped, barely able to afford their rent and groceries, let alone the pleasures that make life worth living.
This unfairness at the core of our economy is our great national heartache. I say heartache because childhood poverty, which disproportionately affects people of color, is a major risk factor for negative health outcomes including depression and degenerative diseases. So many young parents can barely afford childcare and are left to struggle with a patchwork system of care. I say heartache because so many women aren’t earning the same wages as their male counterparts but can’t seem to get anyone from HR or the C-suite to listen to them. I say heartache because I, probably like you, get so very angry seeing my city’s homeless encampments expand with each passing month, only to be razed suddenly by some uncompassionate authority.
So what can we the people do about it? We can turn our attention and political will to a decades-old social welfare system: the Universal Basic Income. UBI is an unconditional standard income for everyone. There are different schema to fund it, but the end result for is for people to receive a monthly or semi-annual check from the government to use as they see fit.
There are two major critiques of basic income. The first is that giving people cash will cause them to work less, and thus hurt the economy. But recent studies of experiments in basic income done in the 60s and 70s in the U.S. and Canada show that this is unjustified by the data, according to University of Chicago economist Ioana Marinescu. If people did leave the labor force, they cited engagement in care work and educational investment. People with a basic income could take more time searching for the right job, which actually increases economic efficiency; school attendance among younger people also increased.
The second critique of UBI focuses on the cost of a universal income floor. This argument is more about political reticence than actual financial impossibility. California could combine revenue sources such as a carbon fee, millionaires tax and estate tax to fund a UBI or create a sovereign wealth fund which would pay out regular dividends to every Californian (Alaska does this with the revenue from its oil lands).
With Assemblyman Tony Thurmond’s decision not to seek re-election for District 15 (Berkeley/Richmond) in November, many candidates have emerged to run. You’re going to hear a lot of promises that address the struggles of working families, but only one of the candidates is actually qualified to bring a bold idea like Universal Basic Income, with all of its nuances and variables, to the floor of the Assembly and the people of California.
As an East Bay working mom and preschool teacher earning just about enough to cover the cost of childcare for my daughter, I urge you to support Owen Poindexter. With his dedicated focus on helping struggling Californians, Owen is the Bernie Sanders in this race. He’s a community organizer (I met him at one of his biweekly, open invitation potlucks for a wide circle of politically engaged friends, dubbed Salad Wednesdays), a researcher and politics journalist, and he’s interviewed many leaders in the movement for Universal Basic Income with his podcast, The Basic Income Podcast. Owen is making the case for $400 a month for everyone in the state, including undocumented immigrants and children (whose income would be split by parents or guardians).
His plan would be funded by a steadily increasing carbon dividend and progressive income tax. Another option is to follow Alaska’s model and create a sovereign wealth fund, using some of those same resources along with an estate tax and other revenue sources.
More than half the district would receive a direct benefit, and the benefit would be negligible for everyone else, in proportion to their income. A UBI would be truly game-changing for around 100,000 people in District 15 alone, who are making under $25,000 a year.
I support Owen not only because I believe a basic income is the best, most feasible system toward actually alleviating poverty and addressing our current economic challenges. I also support the principles behind the Basic Income movement: that no person should be required to ask permission of another for the resources they need to survive and thrive in their lifetime; that every person deserves dignity, including freedom from poverty and wage tyranny; and that when we agree to lift up everyone, we make ourselves and our children stronger.