We are in the midst of both a health crisis and an economic crisis. In order to quickly address the economic crisis, we need to have a universal basic income now.
As of this writing, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment (16.8 million). Many more haven’t been able to get through to unemployment in order to file. While the CARES Act expanded unemployment to the self-employed, states have not yet been given direction as to how to process these claims. To make things more complicated, many Americans were juggling multiple jobs and side-hustles before the pandemic hit. For many most of those streams have dried up while perhaps one or two small revenue streams remain intact. For example, I have many musician friends whose main source of revenue was performing, but they also teach. For them, some of the teaching remains after being moved online while the gigs have disappeared without any idea as to when they might return. This makes applying for unemployment complicated, even if the systems were all up and running. And, of course, not everyone was employed fully before this crisis hit.
The CARES Act also attempted to provide relief through the Payroll Protection Loan program. But many small businesses were unable to get meaningful funds, either because of various qualifications that weren’t met or because (more likely) the banks ran out of money before most had the ability to even apply.
In the meantime, food banks are facing unprecedented need and many people are unable to pay their bills.
These two programs in the CARES Act had the best of intentions. But the help still isn’t getting to those who need it the most. And, of course, a substantial portion of the CARES Act went to bailing out large companies rather than individuals and small businesses. These shortfalls show that It is time to institute a universal basic income, at least for the next several months.
Giving everybody $2,000 a month would relieve the unemployment offices. One wouldn’t need to go through an onerous application and verification process. For those who are still working in lower wage essential service jobs, it can serve as a form of hazard pay. For others, it can be a lifeline — especially as the costs for necessities, such as groceries are rising. Is it expensive? Sure. But it is less expensive than bailing out all the failed businesses and paying banks to verify how much of someone’s self-employment should be considered “wages” and the impact would be real and immediate.
Spain is planning on a universal, permanent UBI. The Pope called for a universal basic income in his Easter address. This proposal has had support at one time or another from across the political spectrum. It is long past time we put this most compassionate and humanitarian of protective measures in place now. We must focus on bailing out the people who need it most rather than the big corporations who, when left to their own devices, won’t trickle down to those that are the most thirsty.
This is the humane thing to do and we should do it immediately.