Research Supports A UBI

During the pandemic, the Biden administration instituted a childcare tax credit. The credit provided families up to $300 per child and broadened eligibility rules. The result? Child poverty rates plummeted.

But as Robert Hubbell, among others, has reported     

Senator Joe Manchin joined with Republicans to kill the childcare tax credit because Manchin reportedly believed that caregivers were using the money to purchase illegal drugs. A new study by the US Census Bureau released on Tuesday reports that child poverty nearly doubled as a result of the termination of benefits by Manchin and the GOP.

An article written by a social worker addressed that widespread, distorted view of poverty and poor people. 

If my decades of work as a social worker taught me one great lesson, it’s this. Poverty is an entrenched system of political choices by self-serving lawmakers, not a personal failing of ordinary people…..

Not one person I’ve ever met wants to be poor, sick, disabled, struggling, or on the receiving end of public assistance programs. These programs are vital but often inadequate and difficult to access…

In 21st-century America, people have to be in extreme hardship to be eligible for help, even as they sometimes work multiple jobs. Not one mother relishes taking three buses in terrible weather to get to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office to prove her worthiness to get help buying cereal for her toddler’s breakfast.

While the importance of hard work and individual talent to self-sufficiency shouldn’t be minimized, neither should it be exaggerated. When the focus is entirely upon the individual, when successes of any sort are attributed solely to individual effort, we fail to see the effects of social and legal structures that privilege some groups and impede others. When marginalized groups call attention to additional barriers they face, members of more privileged groups cling even more strongly to the fiction that only individual merit explains success and failure.

Anyone who has studied the issue, even superficially, knows that America’s social safety net is punitive and woefully inadequate. Too much of what we spend on the  patchwork of programs we sneeringly refer to as “welfare” supports a needlessly complicated bureaucracy, rather than the people who desperately need help. (The working poor are basically ineligible.)

Worse still, these various programs are incredibly and arrogantly paternalistic. Bureaucrats–many well-meaning–decide what “those people” need, and legislate accordingly. Don’t buy a steak with those food stamps! Don’t continue to live in that neighborhood–we’ll move you to one we’ve decided is more appropriate. 

If we just gave poor people money, and let them make their own decisions, it would be cheaper– and far more effective.

I have written before–and at length–about the multiple merits of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and I hope at least a few of you will click through and read that expanded explanation, but today, I want to address the current “system” (note quotation marks) and the very expensive efforts to control what poor folks do with the benefits government provides.

A variety of UBI pilot projects have tested Manchin’s belief that idlers and other “unworthies” would simply use public money for booze or drugs. One such program has reached its halfway point, and its results mirror those of numerous other pilot projects.

Preliminary data is now available showing the effectiveness of guaranteed income as a means of combating poverty in Georgia – slightly more than half the women have saved some money, compared to none at the project’s outset; three times as many women have been able to afford childcare; and the share of women whose cellphone service was interrupted due to unpaid bills dropped from 60 to 40%.

These and other findings come as more than 100 projects centered on giving cash with no restrictions or requirements have started in the last several years, leading a group called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to launch a nationwide speaking tour in recent weeks, screening a new documentary on these efforts called It’s Basic.

How did the recipients use these “no-strings-attached” funds? Most of the money went to utilities, food and rent. There were other positive effects; program researchers are measuring improved mental health, and researching whether participants are more likely to reach life goals with the help of guaranteed income. 

Even homeless people act responsibly when given money. Washington Post article reported on the results of a Canadian project that provided a lump sum of 7,500 Canadian dollars (about $5,540 today) to 50 people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver. Recipients spent fewer days homeless, increased their savings and put more money toward essentials compared with a control group of 65 people who received no cash transfer. It also saved the government money.

The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed PNAS journal this week, followed individuals for one year after they received the lump sum and reported no increase in spending on what researchers call “temptation goods,” defined as alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. By decreasing time spent in shelters, the intervention led to a decrease in public spending of 777 Canadian dollars (about $574) per person, the paper said.

Furthermore, a robust social safety net supports market economies. As Will Wilkinson, vice-president for policy at the libertarian Niskanen Center, argued in National Review, capitalists and socialists both misunderstand economic reality. The Left fails to appreciate the important role of capitalism and markets in producing abundance, and the Right refuses to acknowledge the indispensable role safety nets play in buffering the socially destructive consequences of insecurity.

Even capitalists would benefit from a simpler, more equitable and more reliable social safety net.


  1. I guess it’s easier to use the good cop/bad cop analogy and blame Republicans (rightfully so in this case) Who is to blame when Democrats field a majority and fail to implement or reintroduce the childcare tax credit?

    Unfortunately at risk Americans do not have the political agency that Ukraine seemingly owns and enjoys.

  2. Unfortunately, the facts about poverty don’t seem to matter. We’ve known the facts since the New Jersey Income-Maintenance Experiments done in the 1960s.

  3. G-d forbid poor folks should get any kind of break. The assumption that the child credit money would be spent on drugs underscores the contempt Repubs have toward poverty; perhaps people wouldn’t be poor if they weren’t doing drugs? That poverty is a character flaw that shouldn’t be encouraged? Whatever. (And of course, Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are always on their chopping block wishlist.) America’s a cruel country.

  4. Our “child welfare” systems actually REMOVE children from loving parents who cannot afford utilities, food and rent and PAY other people and institutions MORE to keep them than it would cost to pay their own parents (so many of whom are working for less than a living wage and without benefits), inflicting trauma and perpetuating cycles of violence and addiction.

  5. I am also a social worker and agree completely with the social worker in your essay. Poor people are poor, they aren’t anymore corrupt or addicted than any other group. Even seemingly intelligent people have bought into the notion that there is fault with the individual who is poor, and not the system.

    I always say that supplementing income for the poor and working poor is a win-win. They will spend nearly every penny on things they have been unable to purchase…like kids’ shoes…and eventually put some aside because they know what it is to be flat broke.

  6. I wonder if Senator Manchin and all of the other Republicans who voted to kill the program think of themselves as Christians, and I wonder how many of them have ever read, much less absorbed, the Sermon on the Mount.

  7. Uncle Milty (Friedman) would be delighted by trusting people to improve their own lives while government employment could be diverted to other worthwhile purposes.

  8. I see religion, and the moralizing that emanates therefrom, as the root cause of our culture’s perspective on poverty. Reagan’s BS about the Cadillac driving “Welfare Queen” did nothing to drive the view from our eyes! The moralistic view tells us that the poor are undeserving of doing better, and of our help. Hey, if they were “better” people, God would not have let them suffer so!

    For one, I am sure that Manchin, who is a Republican in all but name, has no real idea, or concern about, “those” people…who happen to make up a goodly (or poorly) large number of his constituents. “You load 16 tons, and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt.”
    There was a reason that song was banned from the radio for some time.

  9. Emotion is driven by perceived meaning. The Right understands and uses that. They have weaponized “universal” to mean “Socialist”. Thus changing campaigning for “universal healthcare” and “Medicare for All” are exactly the same socialism.

    To a certain extent, “income” does the same. To most folks, “income” is something you EARN.

    Is it any wonder that UBI has gone nowhere? DUH.

    Add to that is that many UBI discussions are explicitly or implicitly referring race/ethnicity as the qualifier, rather than poverty – and so – no surprise – “identity politics”.

    When will DEMs/liberals learn about connotation? Thought they were mostly college educated…

  10. I know this was a side point, but having sat on the board of a Community Development Corporation some 20+ years ago, I’m horrified by the article “Don’t Live in That Neighborhood”. I remember several “project” type properties getting shut down in our area, and as a CDC, we were trying to put housing together for some of these people. Luckily, by accident, our CDC territory was the near northside where a lot of these projects were located, so we didn’t force people to move away from what little public transportation that Indianapolis offered, or father away from the one grocery store that served the area, or make them switch school districts.

  11. In my experience working in social services, I have seen the positive impact of Laurie’s example and I also agree with the benefits of universal basic income (UBI) that have been observed across the country. However, it is unlikely that libertarians, like Koch who has influence over the Republican Party, would support federal or state UBI initiatives.

    In response to Ian’s inquiry about who should be held accountable for the lack of implementation or reintroduction of the childcare tax credit by Democrats, Biden and Pelosi famously stated, “We need a strong Republican party. Democrats need them as an excuse to not get things done. Remember, capitalists control Wall Street Democrats.”

    Though both major political parties are beholden to capitalist interests and would oppose UBI, Democrats would likely still blame the GOP. This is simply performative propaganda for the masses.

    One straightforward way to fund UBI is through a tax on financial transactions. We could just tax the Top 3 investment houses to achieve plenty of income to fund a UBI. I’m in favor of redistributing income from a new source (program).

  12. Between Manchin and Sinema, the Dem’s advantage in the Senate is not worth anything. That’s why they can’t afford the luxury of slacking off or making even minor errors in the 24 cycle. They are so bad at messaging and the GOP is so much better than they, it’s likely to be a nightmare for people who like the Constitution. IMHO they blew 2 years of opportunities to codify those areas of the Constitution that were shown to be vulnerable by the orange menace.

  13. The problem isn’t messaging and Republicans are not superlative when it comes to messaging. The problem is Republicans will follow through what they say they will do. Democrats talk a good game and promise a homerun only to bunt .

    I’m sure there are many Democrats unwilling to support the UBI because it doesn’t sit well with their belief of meritocracy. Yes,I’m mentioning the usual group of chorus girls always dependant upon ad hominums and derisive comments toward the lower caste.

  14. I agree with Todd’s means of funding the UBI and have favored a financial transaction tax for many a moon. I also favor a removal of the “carried interest” provision in the code which is a giveaway to equity funds, and a tax certain on the ultra rich – all with increased IRS survelliance of the returns of the rich and corporate taxpayers, where billions and billions are lost every tax year to the pockets of those who don’t need such fraudulent largesse – from OUR pockets.

    We could easily end child poverty and provide a UBI with such minor changes in and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, and all without financial pain to middle and upper class taxpayers and, finally, without criminalizing poor people and their children for being poor.

    The rich have succeeded to date in ghettoizing the poor and their children with moral and ethical judgments they do not apply to themselves, and what I (and others) have here proposed will be met with the usual cries of socialism! communism! etc., when in truth and demonstrable fact such reforms can and should be defined as a cost of doing business by capitalists. A healthier, happier society that has assured bread on the table and with childcare costs not a problem for women who could be working and bringing in additional income to the household during this time of labor shortage is, I am sure, one less likely to engage in crime and other antisocial acts, which benefits all of us. I don’t see a downside, so let’s try it.

  15. Todd. Please cite the source of the quote in your second paragraph. It isn’t such a famous statement that I ever heard it.

  16. I think legislation to establish a child care credit has greater political appeal and popularity than UBI. For this reason alone, I think it’s easier to get done. It can be an important first step. Fund it with higher marginal tax rates on higher income families AND closing loopholes which the wealthy use to reduce their income tax liabilities.

    Capitalism with a much stronger safety net and equal opportunity.

  17. I clicked through to the comments with some trepidation. But, I was worried over nothing. I’m happy to see so many people showing understanding and empathy. It honestly cheers me up.

    For my two cents, I agree with Sheila’s post, of course. But, I think people underappreciate the idea of spending a bit of the money received on “frivolous” items, like a meal out, or a movie, or a drive out into the country for a picnic/hike, or similar. These are simple, relatively inexpensive, acts that are very beneficial to a person, and to a family.

    The reason that Sheila’s post discusses only how “responsibly” the receivers used the funds is because a lot of people think otherwise. For those people (mainly Republicans), the idea is often that you’re poor, and you deserve to be poor, and thus you deserve to suffer. Obviously, that’s very cruel and very wrong. (And as much as I don’t really believe in “good” and “evil”, as such, this is very close to “evil”, I think. It’s inhumane, at the least.) For a poor person to spend money on oneself in this way just demonstrates to this stereotypical Republican person exactly why the other person is poor; they aren’t responsible enough, deserving enough.

    Ultimately, it’s important for well-being to do something nice for themselves occasionally, too, and they absolutely should.

  18. Joe Manchin is an idiot and is only interested in maintaining and expanding his own wealth! Yes, SOME people, no doubt, do spend the $$ on drugs — all the more reason to stop the “war” on drugs and invest in treatment. (I’m betting ol’ Joe has no problem with alcohol and cigarettes which do more damage than all “illegal” drugs put together.) Those folks are in a small minority. Manchin needs to declare as a Republican and get on with it!
    As far as a UBI — unlikely to ever happen, because we have so many folks who hold on to the notion that they don’t want “their” taxes going to “lazy & undeserving” poor people, but have no problem letting the uber wealthy retain their $$$$$ because they “earned” it. Just look at where we’re at with the debt “ceiling” — where all those poor people are driving our country into bankruptcy!! And we can’t have that, so the House will tank the economy, by God!
    As far as research supporting the UBI, we know what we know; don’t confuse us with the facts.
    As Pogo said “We have met the enemy and they re us!”

  19. Sharon — As for “We need a strong Republican party. Democrats need them as an excuse to not get things done. Remember, capitalists control Wall Street Democrats.” — there are no people to which this statement is credited.

  20. Kathy. Thanks. I suppose it was made up by some wrong winger and put in quotes to make it seem legitimate. Just what I thought when I saw it in Todd’s post.

  21. Manchin and so many gop legislators are completely in favor of corporate welfare and financial safety nets for their large campaign donors. Those corporate welfare queens even help write their welfare Bills via ALEC. The only accountability required for the millions of dollars given to the corporate welfare queens is that they keep donating to reelection campaigns. Never mind that some of those tax payer dollars are spent on lavish trips, dinners and gifts for the legislators. They’ll just say that’s the cost of doing business.

  22. Let’s just say, single people need a guaranteed income too. Yes, children should be one criteria but if you must have them to receive UBI, you end up with widows and divorcees on the street too. Count each individual separately and stop discriminating against childless adults.

    OT: sort of, but I saw an interview of a middle aged single mother (2-3 kids) that worked the graveyard shift at one of the Big 3 in Detroit and she made $19 an hour.

    That’s what they paid in 1978! That was a big paycheck 45 years ago so it’s disgraceful that these workers took all those concessions during the 2008 crisis and haven’t recovered their wages since. The corporate greed, stock buybacks and 40% bonuses and raises for CEOs should be matched for the actual workers trying to survive in 2023 on 19 bucks an hour. I know I paid 200 bucks a month for rent in ‘78 but that same place is 1000 a month now.

  23. Nancy — AND, let’s not forget those cheeky devils on the Supreme Court! I think I heard somewhere that they have gone on some pretty fabulous vaycays too.
    Does the term oligarchy ring a bell for anyone out there?

  24. Yes! Sheila, DebG, Kathy, ALG, and others! Thanks. Manchin just needs to step right on over across the aisle. He’s useless over here.

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