“If you’re thinking about it from a wealth-building perspective and [about] racial and gender wealth inequality — I think a guaranteed income is a much better way to do it,” explains Jhumpa Bhattacharya, vice president of programs and strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. “This should really be something that allows us to make up for the fact that there are people who are working — not just one job, but two and three jobs — who still aren’t making enough to have a roof over their heads, put food on the table for their kids, and [keep] the lights on.”
So are UBI and G.I. at odds with each other?
Not necessarily. There’s a reason why the terms are so often used interchangeably. At the end of the day, both economic strategies emphasize consistent, unrestricted cash payments and are aimed at standardizing the quality of life for every individual; meeting one’s basic needs wouldn’t depend on profit margins or employment status. One strategy simply advocates for a blanket, universal application while the other advocates for a more directed approach.
“There are so many different ways one could create an income floor in America. There are so many policy choices,” explains Natalie Foster, cochair of the Economic Security Project. “At their heart, they have one thing in common, which is cash with no strings attached — the idea that there is a floor through which no one can fall and that in the richest country on earth, we can guarantee a set of living standards. We can guarantee a good life for people.”
Guaranteed minimum income leverages the idea of unrestricted economic support to focus on addressing income inequality, most pointedly along racial and gender lines. Like universal basic income, G.I. would be made available to people regardless of employment status, providing economic relief for unemployed people, part-time workers, contract workers, seasonal workers, and everyone in between. But unlike UBI, most programs have some kind of income cap, living condition, demographic, or family status qualification to prevent people without those needs from receiving direct cash support. In short, a guaranteed income program is basically UBI with qualifications.
“It sits alongside a whole host of other guarantees that are needed, from housing guarantees to health care guarantees, but it’s specifically cash with no strings attached,” Foster said. “[It’s] non-labor income — meaning money that comes in each month that you can count on regardless of what you do in the world.”
How could G.I. impact the racial income gap?
Research into the racial income gap in the United States has demonstrated repeatedly that Black Americans are still struggling to recover financially from generations of institutionalized policy and violence. G.I. supporters argue that establishing a minimum income would reduce the racial income gap and finally bring many Black families and individuals above the poverty line while also providing consistent funds to remain above that level.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the existing racial disparity into particularly sharp relief. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Black and Latinx workers experienced higher rates of unemployment at the beginning of the pandemic, and their rates remained higher — particularly for Black workers — than the rest of the population through the end of 2020. Women of color are also already the hardest hit by poverty and economic precarity. A 2019 report from the National Women’s Law Center found that while the poverty rate for white men rests at 7%, the average poverty rate is roughly 18% for Latinas, 20% for Black women, and 22% for Indigenous women.