Visualizing UBI Research

Explore our new tool which compiles extensive research and shows the connections between UBI and a variety of social issues.

The UBI Research Visualization bolsters basic income research by presenting existing knowledge in an accessible platform organized across multiple themes and subthemes. As noted in the video launch, the visualization presents comprehensive summaries of articles, research papers, and books produced on UBI to date; enables viewers to see the diversity of approaches that have been taken on testing UBI and related policies; and allows users to get a good sense of the key tenets of the debate.

The user-friendly platform aspires to provide a wide variety of stakeholders (researchers and students, experimenters, policymakers and philanthropic organizations, among others) with just-in-time access to UBI research. It is the result of two years of research led by the Faculty Director and Program Manager and carried out by a large team of Lab fellows since 2018. Central to the extensive summaries presented below is the commitment to bridging the gap between facts and values. The summaries present existing empirical facts and data around UBI and the broad value-based questions and arguments that surround UBI along critical themes like gender, race and health.

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UBI Themes


This section discusses how UBI might affect economically dependent spouses.

At any given point in time, a significant proportion of women are economically reliant on their male spouse. Among opposite-sex married couples in the United States, only 6.8 percent reported that only the wife was employed while 18.5 percent reported that only the husband was employed (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). These “dependent” spouses rely on a partner as their sole source of income, but even when both partners work, women still face substantial intra-household inequalities in earnings: husbands earn more than wives in approximately three-quarters of all American marriages (Heggeness & Murray-Close, 2018).

This economic dependency within the household, scholars and activists argue, is a major source of gender inequality (Baxter & Kane, 1995; Orloff, 2013). Economic dependency, for example, can create problematic power dynamics within the household, as the spouse who earns the most may also have more control over the household finances and decisions. It can also limit the dependent spouse’s exit options, which is particularly concerning in cases of domestic abuse (Conner, 2014). Structurally, the gendered nature of economic dependency may also affect societal attitudes. As some scholars have argued, men and women have fewer egalitarian attitudes in contexts where there is more economic dependency: it contributes to the sense that house- and care-work is “women’s work” (Baxter & Kane, 1995).

By providing a baseline individual income, a generous UBI program could empower spouses who are economically dependent. Since most existing welfare benefits are assessed at the household level, financially dependent spouses are often left out. By contrast, a UBI would apply to each spouse, thus potentially leveling intra-household power dynamics and limiting the ways in which current economic and legal systems (e.g., citizenship restrictions and employment discrimination) reinforce one another to trap women in dependent relationships (Pateman, 2004). The security provided by UBI could be critical for facilitating exit options for spouses in undesirable or abusive relationships (Elgarte, 2008; Orloff, 2013; Robeyns, 2001; Zelleke, 2008).

UBI’s impact on household gender equity has not yet been studied in high-income countries, but existing empirical evidence in developing countries has been positive. In a 2008–2009 Namibia experiment, for example, basic income transfers seemed to reduce the dependency of young women on men for their survival. Women participants reported more control over their own sexuality, freeing them to some extent from the pressure to engage in transactional sex; but, the study did not discuss these results in greater depth (Haarmann et al., 2009).

The 2011-2013 Kenya Give Directly experiment, which provided cash transfers to both male and female heads of household, showed that basic income transfers given to female heads of households improved women’s status as measured by the female empowerment index (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016). The study also indicated that gendered differences were seen in the psychological well-being index, suggesting that women’s well-being was highly correlated with female empowerment (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016).

Perhaps the most revealing study to date on UBI’s gender impact was a 2011–2012 randomized control trial in Madhya Pradesh, India. The experiment set out to see whether an individual basic income payment, particularly when combined with membership in a women’s union (the Self-Employed Women’s Association or SEWA), enabled women to develop a greater sense of empowerment and a broader identity (SEWA Bharat, 2014). In the general pilot, 20 villages participated: eight received a monthly basic income transfer and 12 did not (control group). Of the eight receiving the transfers, SEWA had a presence in four of the villages; and, of the control group, SEWA was engaged in six villages. In the tribal pilot, SEWA was present in both villages, though only one received individual cash transfer (SEWA Bharat, 2014). SEWA’s engagement with women under the age of 14 in these villages included opening bank accounts, granting access to employment, or facilitating an income generation program (SEWA Bharat, 2014). For those receiving cash, women also received the basic income grants of their children, which was intended to give mothers greater autonomy over the family’s spending decisions (SEWA Bharat, 2014).

The results were overwhelmingly positive: 85 percent of surveyed participants believed that basic income improved the position of women in the household and gave women more power over how income was spent (Davala et al., 2015). Additionally, more than 1,600 women were given access to financial services, up from 365 women before the pilot, through the opening of individual or SEWA cooperative bank accounts, which in turn established an independent legal identity for them and led to a greater sense of empowerment (SEWA Bharat, 2014). Finally, more than half of the women receiving basic income in SEWA villages also reported that their household income (cash transfer or other) was more equitably distributed among members of the household, compared to 39 percent in the control group, resulting in improvements in girls nutrition and increases in girls enrollment in secondary education (SEWA Bharat, 2014).

These three experiments offer a glimpse into how an individual UBI might impact gender dynamics in the household, but additional research is needed, especially in higher-income countries. Given that household compositions and gender roles are changing at rapid rates, it would be especially beneficial for the new wave of experiments and pilots in the Global North to take gender equity effects explicitly into account.

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Baxter, J., & Kane, E. W. (1995). Dependence and Independence: A Cross-National Analysis of Gender Inequality and Gender Attitudes. Gender & Society, 9(2), 193–215.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Employment Characteristics of Families—2019 (USDL-20-0670). United States Department of Labor.

Conner, D. H. (2014). Financial Freedom: Women, Money, and Domestic Abuse. William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, 20(2), 339–397.

Davala, S., Renana Jhabvala, Guy Standing, & Soumya Kapoor Mehta. (2015). Basic income: A transformative policy for India. Bloomsbury Academic.

Elgarte, J. M. (2008). Basic Income and the Gendered Division of Labour. Basic Income Studies, 3(3), 1–7.

Haarmann, C., Haarmann, D., Jauch, H., Shindondola-Mote, H., Nattrass, N., van Niekerk, I., & Samson, M. (2009). Making the difference! The BIG in Namibia. Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2016). The Short-term Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers to the Poor: Experimental Evidence from Kenya. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(4), 1973–2042.

Heggeness, M., & Murray-Close, M. (2018). Manning up and womaning down: How husbands and wives report their earnings when she earns more (No. 2018–20). Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division, United States Census Bureau.

Orloff, A. (2013). Why Basic Income does not Promote Gender Equality. In K. Widerquist, J. Noguera, Y. Vanderborght, & J. De Wispelaere (Eds.), Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research (First Edition, pp. 149–160). Blackwell Publishing.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

Robeyns, I. (2001). Will a Basic Income Do Justice to Women? Analyse & Kritik, 23(1), 88–105.

SEWA Bharat. (2014). A Little More, How Much It Is: Piloting Basic Income Transfers in Madhya Pradesh, India (p. 512) [Report on Unconditional Cash Transfer Pilot Project]. SEWA and UNICEF.

Zelleke, A. (2008). Institutionalizing the Universal Caretaker Through a Basic Income? Basic Income Studies, 3(3), 1–9.

This section discusses whether UBI might alleviate or reinforce the gendered distribution of care work.

Care work is important: it shapes the next generation and ensures the dignity of those who are ill or disabled. And yet care work is often undervalued by society, which manifests as a gendered phenomenon both in and outside of the home. Within the formal employment market, women are over-represented in caring professions. As a result, these professions are seen as relatively low prestige and individuals who perform care work are often underpaid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health aides or caregivers in the United States make $20,000–$30,000 a year, well below the median yearly income of $60,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019).

Inside the home, women assume the majority of unpaid care responsibilities, which is often to the detriment of their own employment prospects. In the United States in 2017, 27 percent of women stayed home to care for children compared to 7 percent of men (Livingston, 2018). Moreover, middle-aged women were more likely than their male counterparts to leave a job to care for an elderly family member, which can result in increased isolation, stress, and the risk of poverty in old age due to lost income and benefits (Wakabayashi & Donato, 2006). The gendered division of care work both in and outside the home thus conspires to limit women’s social and professional flourishing and leaves them economically worse off than men.

There are three ways in which a UBI might promote a better recognition of informal care work. First, if set sufficiently high, a UBI would ensure that those who take time off work to look after a child or aging parent do not face as high a financial risk. Having to perform care work is often cited as a factor in female impoverishment, which means that a UBI could especially impact the rates of women living in poverty. Second, by granting individuals more financial flexibility, a UBI could help those who find meaning in care work to opt out of poor quality or poorly remunerated jobs to support their own family members (McKay, 2007; Pateman, 2004). Finally, a UBI would remove some of the disadvantage that current welfare systems place on unwaged caregivers; for instance, caregivers often lack eligibility for a number of benefit programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, because they require formal enrollment in the labor market. Taken together, a UBI program could thus give individuals more freedom to engage in necessary or desired care work (Zelleke, 2008) and it could help promote a better recognition of caregiving as a valuable and productive activity (Weeks, 2011).

A UBI program would also impact caregivers in the formal market. Although waged caregivers as a whole are underpaid, they still earn too much for benefit eligibility (i.e. for programs such as SNAP and TANF). As a result, many professional caregivers struggle to make ends meet: 20 percent of home care workers live in poverty, compared to 7 percent of all workers (Campbell, 2018). A UBI program could thus increase economic security for waged caregivers (Robeyns, 2001) but it could also improve the status of the profession as a whole. If the UBI were high enough to provide genuine exit options, it would give care-workers more bargaining power, which could result in improved wages and work conditions. If waged care-work were to increase in status, it would also likely become more appealing to groups who have traditionally avoided it, notably men and white people. Despite making up only a quarter of the total labor force, people of color, especially women of color, are overrepresented in care work: in 2015, 59 percent of home care-workers for the elderly and disabled were people of color, as were roughly 40 percent of home-based child care workers (Campbell, 2018; Whitebook et al., 2018).

It is less clear what would happen to the division of labor within households under a UBI program. Given existing social norms, some have worried that UBI could have the effect of encouraging women to withdraw from the labor market in order to dedicate themselves to care work within the home (Gheaus, 2008; Orloff, 2013). UBI would then risk further entrenching gender norms around care. An alternative welfare scheme that challenges how both paid and unpaid work are structured could plausibly have a better chance of reducing women’s responsibility for childcare and housework (Orloff, 2013). But UBI could also affect the opposite outcome in the home: by providing funds that can be used for childcare, more women might return to work post-birth. While this would result in more women in the formal labor force overall, it could also risk entrenching the current racialized and gendered norms of waged care-work.

Evidence from Canada’s Mincome experiment in the 1970s suggests that guaranteed income caused female spouses to finance longer maternity leaves, to reduce their work hours, and to take longer breaks from employment later in their careers (Forget, 2011). There are difficulties in interpreting these results, however. Gender norms have changed significantly since the 1970s, making it difficult to extrapolate from these results to the present. Moreover, the results do not discuss how breaks in employment might be used for purposes other than childrearing, such as caring for elderly. As such, more research, especially on UBI’s long-term effects on labor demand (Widerquist, 2018) is needed to predict how men and women would engage in care work.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Home Health Aides and Personal Care Aides. U.S. Department of Labor.

Campbell, S. (2018). U.S. Home Care Workers: Key Facts (2018). PHI.

Forget, E. L. (2011). The Town with No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Gheaus, A. (2008). Basic Income, Gender Justice and the Costs of Gender-Symmetrical Lifestyles. Basic Income Studies, 3(3).

Livingston, G. (2018). The Changing Profile of Unmarried Parents (Social and Demographic Trends). Pew Research Center.

McKay, A. (2007). Why a citizens’ basic income? A question of gender equality or gender bias. Work, Employment and Society, 21(2), 337–348.

Orloff, A. (2013). Why Basic Income does not Promote Gender Equality. In K. Widerquist, J. Noguera, Y. Vanderborght, & J. De Wispelaere (Eds.), Basic Income: An Anthology of Contemporary Research (First Edition, pp. 149–160). Blackwell Publishing.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

Robeyns, I. (2001). Will a Basic Income Do Justice to Women? Analyse & Kritik, 23(1), 88–105.

Wakabayashi, C., & Donato, K. M. (2006). Does Caregiving Increase Poverty among Women in Later Life? Evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47(3), 258–274.

Weeks, K. (2011). The problem with work: Feminism, Marxism, antiwork politics, and postwork imaginaries. Duke University Press.

Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L. J. E., & Edwards, B. (2018). The Early Childhood Workforce Index 2018. Center for the Study of Childcare Employment.

Widerquist, K. (2018). A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens.

Zelleke, A. (2008). Institutionalizing the Universal Caretaker Through a Basic Income? Basic Income Studies, 3(3), 1–9.

This section considers whether UBI could improve women’s position in the labor market.

Current labor market practices assume that workers follow a “male life pattern”—that is, workers are autonomous individuals who have others (either relatives or employees) perform any necessary care work. The formal labor market thus often fails to accommodate the specific needs of women and caregivers, leading to the gender pay gap and the feminization of part-time work. The gender pay gap in the United States was 15 percent in 2018. Based on this finding, it would take an extra 39 days (or roughly 8 weeks) of work for women to earn as much as men (Graff et al., 2019).

There are different explanations for why women are paid less than men, but the most dominant argument is that women face a “pregnancy penalty”: women often assume the majority of childrearing responsibilities and are then penalized for a presumed lack of commitment to the workplace (Shinall, 2018). Other arguments to explain the pay gap include that women don’t negotiate their salaries as much or as successfully as men do (Shinall, 2018); that women tend to choose lower-paying jobs (Barbulescu & Bidwell, 2013); and that employers are biased: whether consciously or unconsciously, they believe that men should earn more (Williams et al., 2010). Of these four explanations, a UBI might have positive impacts on the first three. First, it could mitigate the “pregnancy penalty” by making childcare affordable for more parents, thus reducing some of the burden of care work and allowing women to dedicate more time to their careers (McKay, 2007; Pateman, 2004; Zelleke, 2008). A UBI could also give women increased bargaining power by widening their exit options (McKay, 2007). And, by helping women afford more education, training, or care when necessary, a UBI could grant women the freedom to make riskier career choices, changing the proportion of women who ‘pick’ (willingly or not) low-paying jobs.

If the gender pay gap stems primarily from bias, however, a UBI is unlikely to help solve the problem since it is unlikely to radically impact sexist biases. If the bias against women, however, stems from some combination of the pregnancy penalty, lower bargaining effectiveness, and feminized career choices, then a UBI could help mitigate it and, in the long run, contribute to a world in which women face less gender discrimination.

In addition to the wage-gap, women in the formal labor market have to deal with the gendered impact of part-time work. Between 1968 and 2016, the percentage of women working part-time changed very little, fluctuating between 25 and 30 percent, which is nearly two to three times that of men (7 to 13 percent during the same time period) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). While part-time work may allow for greater flexibility, it has disproportionately negative impacts on income stability, health and retirement benefits, consistent working hours, and societal acknowledgement. Part-time workers, for example, have only one-third the access to health insurance coverage as do full-timers—22 percent compared with 73 percent (Golden, 2016).

In feminist thought, there is some disagreement regarding the feminized nature of part-time work. On the one hand, part-time work can be seen as hindering women’s empowerment since it leaves women more socially and economically vulnerable and may even be the result of discrimination against women in the full-time labor force (i.e., full time positions that have no flexibility regarding childcare). Moreover, the preponderance of women doing part-time work may reify existing stereotypes: if part time workers are assumed to take on the majority of care work within the household, then the feminization of part-time work further associates care work with women’s work, which can hurt women’s employment prospects. In this context, a UBI could do more harm than good by incentivizing those socially designated as caregivers to stay home and perform the unpaid work of taking care of children and older adults (Bergmann, 2008; Orloff, 2013), thus increasing the gender disparity in the labor force.

On the other hand, care work is socially valuable and meaningful, and part-time work may enable caregivers to achieve the ‘work–life’ balance that best fits their needs or interests. This approach does not associate women’s empowerment with an increase in the number of women who work full-time. It avoids the androcentric assumption that a full-time job is necessarily the ideal model. On this view, we should instead be encouraging more men to work part-time. As gender roles continue to evolve, a UBI could do just that; by providing economic security for all with no work requirements, it could incentivize more men to move from full-time into part-time work.

Whether UBI would radically impact women in the labor force largely depends on how success is defined. If the goal is to increase the number of women in full-time employment, then other policies might be better suited. For example, a job guarantee could offer female workers income as well as a variety of valuable work benefits, such as health care, a social network, and increased self-esteem (Orloff, 2013). A provision or subsidization of childcare could also more efficiently encourage women’s labor market participation than UBI (Bergmann, 2008). If the goal, however, is to increase women’s economic security and career options (broadly understood to include the option of part-time work), then a UBI could be well-suited to the task.

There is a small body of empirical research on the effects of UBI on women’s labor force participation in low- and middle-income contexts. Existing empirical evidence on this subject is limited mostly to the Madhya Pradesh experiment, which concluded that basic income contributed to an increase and diversification of female participation in formal economic activities, especially jobs that involved hard manual labor. Nonetheless, women were paid less than men for the same jobs (Davala et al., 2015). The SEWA study (SEWA Bharat, 2014) also notes that, when given a cash transfer, women in the tribal villages shifted to paid, casual manual labor because it gave them more control over their time and production. Notably, the percentage of women who worked primarily in farming rose to 66 percent from 39 percent. This increase was largely attributed to women being able to buy farming materials, seed, and livestock with the cash transfer. The experiment also caused more people, especially women, to take on additional jobs (own-account activity) through giving them more control over their time and production, thus significantly increasing the total number of hours worked by recipients (Davala et al., 2015). These effects were found to extend even four years beyond the study with women’s labor participation increased by 16 percent and no change among male participants (SEWA Bharat, 2014). The authors of the study didn’t conclude whether this increase was advantageous or not (Davala et al., 2015), highlighting the need for more experiments and pilot programs to test these contrasting hypotheses on UBI’s effects on women in the labor force. Results are more mixed when programs that meet some and not all characteristics of a UBI are included in the analysis. An umbrella review of different types of cash transfers that share features with UBI found reductions in labor market participation for women with care responsibilities and married women with children (Hasdell, 2020). In higher-income contexts, the income and substitution effects of a UBI are more complex. Income and substitution effects – or the extent to which people ‘spend’ part of their unearned income on increased leisure or make ‘trade-offs’ between more work and lost benefits – are quite small in both the 1970’s negative income tax experiments and for the Alaska Permanent Fund, however are more significant for women than men (Hoynes & Rothstein, 2019; Marinescu, 2018). In contrast to the small reductions in work hours in universal and unconditional programs, there are some increases in labor market participation for households that receive in-work credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) (Hoynes & Rothstein, 2019).

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Barbulescu, R., & Bidwell, M. (2013). Do Women Choose Different Jobs from Men? Mechanisms of Application Segregation in the Market for Managerial Workers. Organization Science, 24(3), 737–756.

Bergmann, B. R. (2008). Basic Income Grants or the Welfare State: Which Better Promotes Gender Equality? Basic Income Studies, 3(3).

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Percentage of Employed Women Working Full Time Little Changed over Past 5 Decades (The Economics Daily). U.S. Department of Labor.

Davala, S., Renana Jhabvala, Guy Standing, & Soumya Kapoor Mehta. (2015). Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. Bloomsbury Academic.

Golden, L. (2016). Still Falling Short on Hours and Pay: Part-time Work Becoming New Normal. Economic Policy Institute.

Graff, N., Brown, A., & Patten, E. (2019, March 22). The narrowing, but persistent, gender gap in pay. Pew Research FactTank: News in the Numbers.

Hasdell, R. (2020). What we know about Universal Basic Income: A cross-synthesis of reviews (p. 27). Basic Income Lab.

Hoynes, H., & Rothstein, J. (2019). Universal Basic Income in the US and Advanced Countries (No. w25538). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Marinescu, I. (2018). No strings attached: The behavioral effects of U.S. unconditional cash transfer programs (Working Paper No. 24337). National Bureau of Economic Research.


This section discusses how UBI may impact citizens' political participation, especially voter turnout.

Civic participation is the process of citizen engagement in the political life of a community. There are many forms of participation, including voting, volunteering, and campaigning, among others. The following summary first looks at the potential implications of UBI on citizens’ participation as a whole. It then narrows its focus to low-income citizens, who have historically evidenced low participation rates. Although UBI holds promise for increasing civic participation, the empirical evidence is scarce and uncertain.

Some democratic theorists hold civic participation to be key to a successfully functioning democracy (Skocpol & Fiorina, 2004). They worry about decreased civic participation in the form of declining voting rates and the shrinking presence of civic groups, such as volunteer organizations or unions. One potential cause of decreased participation may be increased time constraints on employed citizens. Indeed, there is some evidence that the amount of time college-educated Americans spend at work has been increasing (The Economist, 2014). Another potential explanation for the decline in civic associations in the United States is the increased labor force participation of upper and middle class women, whose unpaid labor in earlier generations may have been essential to the robustness of American civic life (Putnam, 2001).

If UBI impacts labor force participation, for instance by enabling a reduction of hours of formal labor, it may free up citizens’ time to engage in civic participation. There is some evidence that a UBI would enable individuals to exchange time spent at work for other activities they consider to be more valuable, such as education or child-rearing. Whether a UBI would increase civic participation among middle- and high-income citizens has yet to be empirically investigated.

Democratic theorists are primarily worried about the participation of low-income citizens, whose levels have never been high to begin with. There is a strong literature demonstrating a correlation between political participation and level of income (Ojeda, 2018). In particular, the likelihood that one will vote is strongly correlated with socio-economic status and voter turnout increases with income level (Akee et al., 2018; Scholzman et al., 2018). The impact of income on participation is curvilinear, meaning that the effect of income on turnout is largest at the lower end of the income distribution (Ojeda, 2018; Rosenstone & Hansen, 2009). In the political science literature, four causal mechanisms for this phenomenon have been articulated. First, low-income families may lack the skills and resources necessary for participation (Scholzman et al., 2018) second, mobilization efforts by campaigns and other organizations tend to ignore low-income communities (Rosenstone & Hansen, 2009) third, policy agendas do not emphasize issues relevant to the them (Piven & Cloward, 1988) and fourth, restrictions such as voter ID laws or felony disenfranchisement may disproportionately impact low-income citizens (Hershey, 2009).

A UBI could address some of these causal mechanisms, resulting in increased participation. If low-income citizens do not participate because of economic barriers, such as the inability to take time off from work or to find childcare on election day, then a significant UBI would help increase opportunities for electoral participation. It is also worth noting that a UBI could be a policy issue of direct significance to low-income citizens, which may in turn help create a class of voters that are more easily mobilized, similar to how the passing of social security legislation led to the emergence of elderly citizens as a political class (Campbell, 2011). There is also some evidence that the children of those who exit poverty are more likely to vote (Akee et al., 2018)which suggests a robust UBI could have long reaching effects on political participation.

But while UBI would remove some economic barriers, it would likely not remove barriers of language, political knowledge, or even interest. UBI, then, may be of limited impact as a solution to low and unequal civic participation. Moreover, versions of the UBI proposal that include cuts to other important services such as public education may actually negatively impact participation rather than boost it. UBI would of course also be unlikely to impact institutional barriers to participation, such as laws intended to restrict enfranchisement.

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Akee, R., Copeland, W., Costello, E. J., Holbein, J., & Simeonova, E. (2018). Family Income and the Intergenerational Transmission of Voting Behavior: Evidence from an Income Intervention (No. w24770; p. w24770). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Campbell, A. L. (2011). How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State. Princeton University Press.

Hershey, M. R. (2009). What We Know about Voter-ID Laws, Registration, and Turnout. PS: Political Science and Politics, 42(1), 87–91. JSTOR.

Ojeda, C. (2018). The Two Income-Participation Gaps. American Journal of Political Science, 62(4), 813–829.

Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (1988). Why Americans don’t vote (1st ed). Pantheon Books.

Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community (1. touchstone ed). Simon & Schuster.

Rosenstone, S. J., & Hansen, J. M. (2009). Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. Longman.

Scholzman, K. L., Brady, H., & Verba, S. (2018). Unequal and Unrepresented: Political inequality and the people’s voice in the new gilded age. Princeton University Press.

Skocpol, T., & Fiorina, M. P. (2004). Civic engagement in American democracy. Brookings Institution Press ; Russell Sage Foundation.

The Economist. (2014, April 22). Nice work if you can get out. The Economist.

This section discusses how UBI might result in the democratization of spheres of life outside of political institutions, such as the workplace or the household.

Democratization is the process of making something—a regime, a culture, or a decision-making process—more “democratic,” that is, more reflective of the values of freedom and equality. One way of democratizing is by increasing access to democratic institutions, such as voting. But one can also democratize by increasing people’s ability to take advantage of the institutions to which they already have access; for instance, by making people more knowledgeable about the kinds of policies they vote for.

When democratic theorists consider the potential for UBI, they are especially interested in this type of democratization (Goodhart, 2008; Pateman, 2004). Democratic theorists often worry about the impact of economic dependency on democracy. Most obviously, individuals who are dependent in the private sphere may be more likely to be coerced in the public sphere. An authoritarian employer or husband could control how one votes or how much they donate. However, there are also subtler ways in which dependency could impact how one practices citizenship. For example, if one spends too much time working or at the service of their superiors, they might be prevented from engaging in the type of thinking and education necessary to productively participate in public life. Dependency might also impact one’s character, making one more “slavish” and less willing to think for themselves. Even Friedrich von Hayek, a defender of capitalism, wrote in the mid-twentieth century that workers—those who depend on capitalists for their subsistence—were “in many respects … alien and inimical to much that constitutes the driving force of a free society” (Hayek, 2010).

Insofar as UBI alleviates economic dependency, it could contribute to reducing this problem. If one is economically independent, the thinking goes, one is more likely to be politically independent as well. The empirical evidence for this claim is more than uncertain though. Although theorists have posited that economic dependency has a negative impact on one’s democratic character, the effect of increased economic security through a program like UBI has not been measured. There are also many other, perhaps more significant, causes of “bad” democratic character, such as media misinformation or ideological segregation. In addition, employer pressure on political participation is already illegal and may not be widespread.

There is some limited evidence that UBI may result in individuals engaging in activities that could make them more independent citizens. For instance, there is some evidence of young adults receiving a basic income replacing workforce participation with education (McDonald & Stephenson, 1979). If increased education—or the other activities that are substituted for work—turn individuals into better citizens, then UBI could have a positive impact on democratization in at least this indirect way.

Economic dependency is primarily worrisome because it may put some at the mercy of malicious actors, such as bad bosses or domineering family members, but democratic theorists have other considerations as well when it comes to increasing people’s ability to participate in democratic institutions. Even if there is no individual bad behavior, for example, the overarching way an institution is structured can impact the types of habits individuals build. Authoritarian institutions might cause individuals to develop submissive characters (Pateman, 2004). If the family and the workplace are inegalitarian, the argument goes, people will develop traits that make them unable to participate effectively in their democracies.

Proponents of UBI argue that so long as the transfer is large enough, the policy would have a democratizing effect (Pateman, 2004). By enabling people to choose whether to work and who to work for, and by increasing their exit options, a basic income may prevent individuals from entering undemocratic or inegalitarian contracts. When individual actors have more economic security, undemocratic institutions could be reimagined and redesigned from the inside to become more democratic: workplaces and households could become more egalitarian, and workers and family members might be more likely to practice the virtues required for autonomous decision making.

These positive outcomes are largely speculative though. There is little evidence as to whether economic independence would in fact lead to workers choosing workplaces wherein they can practice democratic virtues, or whether the threat of exit would force employers to reform their internal governance structures. However, there are some promising indicators. The basic income experiments in Madhya Pradesh, India resulted in anecdotal evidence regarding an increase in collective work, describing nascent workers’ collectives. In addition, there was a significant switch among individuals from wage-labor to ‘own-account’ work (that is, work done for one’s own profit) (SEWA Bharat, 2014). If becoming “one’s own boss” inculcates or develops democratic virtues, then such a switch would not only be empowering for the individuals, but also beneficial for the polity. As for making families more egalitarian, there is some evidence that cash transfers do improve the standing of women within households, making them more economically independent and/or giving them greater power in household decision-making (SEWA Bharat, 2014). This may result in more “democratized” homes (Pateman, 2004).

But there may be reasons to question whether UBI can democratize in the ways its proponents propose. Opponents of UBI argue that it may provide economic independence but would not result in democratizing reforms of the workplace (Gourevitch, 2016). In particular, they argue that basic income only reduces power asymmetries in the workplace for individuals who have an instrumental reason to work; that is, for individuals who work because they depend on its income. But individuals have many other reasons for working; for instance, they may depend on a position for meaning or social connectedness. These workers may remain locked into authoritarian workplaces because the mere “freedom to exit” does not necessarily yield alternative satisfactory opportunities. More generally, democratic reforms do not necessarily logically follow from the right to exit. Since UBI treats workers as separate market participants, it may reduce workers’ ability to organize collectively, decreasing both their access to that particular democratic avenue, hindering their ability to reform organizations. More research is thus required to understand better the relationship between UBI and the democratization of the workplace.

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Goodhart, M. (2008). A Democratic Defense of Universal Basic Income. In Illusion of Consent: Engaging with Carole Pateman (pp. 139–162). Penn State University Press.

Gourevitch, A. (2016). The Limits of a Basic Income: Means and Ends of Workplace Democracy. Basic Income Studies, 11(1), 17–28.

Hayek, F. A. von. (2010). The Constitution of Liberty. Routledge.

McDonald, J. F., & Stephenson, S. P. (1979). The Effect of Income Maintenance on the School-Enrollment and Labor-Supply Decisions of Teenagers. The Journal of Human Resources, 14(4), 488.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

SEWA Bharat. (2014). A Little More, How Much It Is: Piloting Basic Income Transfers in Madhya Pradesh, India (p. 512) [Report on Unconditional Cash Transfer Pilot Project]. SEWA and UNICEF.

This section explains how democratic theorists have sought to justify UBI.

One argument proponents of UBI make is that subsistence, like political participation, is a fundamental democratic right. Scholars make two cases for such a view. The first regards UBI’s instrumental value. It seeks to demonstrate that rights are interconnected, which means that rights concerning political participation (e.g., enfranchisement, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly) cannot be maintained without the equal protection of rights related to economic independence. Therefore, UBI is necessary to support other democratic rights. The second argument concerns UBI’s intrinsic value. This argument makes an analogy between subsistence and suffrage, claiming that both are fundamental rights due to democratic citizens. In this paradigm, arguing against universal basic income is like arguing against universal suffrage, that is, it is intrinsically anti-democratic.

UBI is seen as instrumentally valuable to a variety of democratic rights from both an individual perspective and a collective perspective. The most common argument from the individual perspective is that rights are intertwined: the violation of any given right also damages other rights. For instance, one cannot practice freedom of religion without freedom of assembly (Shue, 1996). Proponents of this claim argue that the violation of what they consider one’s economic rights results in the violation of other political rights. Free speech, for example, is undermined if your economic dependency means you cannot express political disagreement with your boss. UBI as an economic right thus likely protects one’s political rights, at least insofar as it is robust enough to grant real exit options (Goodhart, 2008).

Less commonly argued is that UBI has an instrumental role to play in the collective provision of rights. Some fundamental democratic rights rely on what are known as “participatory resources” (Scholzman et al., 2018). Voting, for instance, requires a colossal infrastructure for which no single person is responsible. Elections require voting booths, voting software, polling locations, registration and registration assistance, and other logistical resources, such as roads and traffic management on routes to and from polling locations. Some countries even make election days mandated holidays. In this framework, UBI is valuable not just for how it removes economic barriers to participation, but also for how it actively and collectively contributes to the provision of resources necessary to participate: time, money, and motivation.

Some theorists see UBI as valuable not merely because it promotes political rights, but because they believe it to be a political right in and of itself (Pateman, 2004)—similar to voting. While there are many instrumental arguments for why voting is valuable—better policy outcomes or holding elected officials accountable—many democratic theorists argue that voting is also intrinsically valuable. Voting, this argument goes, is a symbolic act of political equality; even if people don’t participate evenly, the mere fact of universal access demonstrates that a democracy is rule by all the people, for all the people (Chapman, 2019). The intrinsic arguments for universal basic income are similar. Even if UBI is not shown to increase people’s electoral participation or use of other rights, some scholars argue that it is a right in and of itself because of its symbolic demonstration of equal public standing—the idea that all individuals in a polity are valued the same and considered equal participants in public life (Pateman, 2004).

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Chapman, E. B. (2019). The Distinctive Value of Elections and the Case for Compulsory Voting. American Journal of Political Science, 63(1), 101–112.

Goodhart, M. (2008). A Democratic Defense of Universal Basic Income. In Illusion of Consent: Engaging with Carole Pateman (pp. 139–162). Penn State University Press.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

Scholzman, K. L., Brady, H., & Verba, S. (2018). Unequal and Unrepresented: Political inequality and the people’s voice in the new gilded age. Princeton University Press.

Shue, H. (1996). Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy (2. ed). Princeton Univ. Press.

This section explores how UBI might improve governance in democracies, in particular by examining how UBI may impact democratic accountability and legitimacy.

As a regime type, democracy is often valued for certain intrinsic characteristics, such as how it manifests citizen equality. But there are also instrumental reasons for valuing democracy, including the fact that it may result in better governance. Democracies may be both more legitimate and more accountable than other forms of government, resulting in policies that are better for citizens. If democracies fail to be accountable or legitimate—that is, to embody these values of good governance—it may contribute to democratic dissatisfaction and the desire for alternative regime types. Globally, dissatisfaction with how democracy is working is on the rise; across 27 countries polled, a median of 51 percent of people were dissatisfied with the current functioning of democracy in their countries (Richard Wike et al., 2019). People who considered their governments to be unaccountable (corrupt or unable to improve standards of living) or illegitimate (untrustworthy or unwilling to respect basic rights) were more likely to be dissatisfied.

If we value democracy because of its association with good governance, we may ask what impact UBI would have on the ability of democracies to govern well. Evidence from cash transfers offers insights on accountability and legitimacy—the two values thought necessary for good governance.

How might UBI impact the ability of citizens to hold their governments accountable? Insofar as a UBI is likely to increase voter turnout or citizen participation, it could very well increase government accountability. However, it is not enough that citizens merely participate; in order to ensure good governance, how they participate matters as well. “Unhealthy” political engagement, when citizens select and sanction leaders on the basis of their provision of private goods, can damage the state’s ability to govern (Khemani, 2015). Unhealthy civic participation, for example, can be seen in special interests’ groups who mobilize to extract benefits from policies at the expense of public interest. Civic participationis “healthy” when citizens select and sanction leaders on their ability to provide public goods. An exampleof healthy participation might include sanctioning leaders for corruption by voting them out of office.

UBI, which is both a public and a private good, complicates the boundary between healthy and unhealthy civic engagement. On the one hand, reduced economic dependency may empower citizens to monitor their government and to elect responsive leadership. Yet evidence from conditional cash transfers has shown there are also cases in which the policy could reduce the independence of voters, making them more likely to vote for the incumbent (Baez et al., 2012). Vote-buying—the process of offering gifts or money in exchange for votes—is robustly correlated with lower quality of public services across countries (World Bank, 2016). If politicians use the direct benefit of UBI to ‘buy’ votes (for example, by promising increased payments), it may hinder the ability of citizens to remove those leaders in the case of other infractions. It is possible, however, that such an effect could be mitigated by UBI’s universality; the fact that even higher-income citizens would receive the benefit might prevent the emergence of a “Curley effect”—a phenomenon whereby politicians increase the size of their political base, ensuring reelection, via policies that provide distortionary benefits (Glaeser & Shleifer, 2002).

A related fear regarding UBI and accountability is that voter interest in UBI might outweigh other important concerns regarding the public good. Some have argued, for instance, that the annual dividend from Alaska’s Permanent Fund has “warped” local politics, because residents vote to protect their individual payments to the detriment of public services such as schools and universities (Sundlee, 2019). This is important since, when policies provide targeted benefits, as a cash transfer does, there may often be fewer resources available for other types of services, such as public health or education (Khemani, 2019). Evidence is mixed, however, as recent polls demonstrate that voters would be willing to consider capping their Permanent Fund dividend payments or directing additional earnings from the Permanent Fund towards public services and programs (Stalzer, 2015). More research is required to understand the relationship between UBI and voter interest in the provision of public goods.

A large part of the perception of a government as legitimate relies on citizen perception that the government is accountable. So, insofar as UBI were to increase democratic accountability, it would also increase democratic legitimacy.But another axis of democratic legitimacy is social cohesion, which is known in some scholarly work as social capital or social connectedness.

Social cohesion has been found in empirical studies to impact the health of democracies, as it is often associated with improved institutional performance, economic prosperity, increased mobilization and participation, and general sense of citizen efficacy (Campbell, 2013; Putnam et al., 1994; Rosenstone & Hansen, 2009). Economic inequality, such as highly unequal incomes, and social inequality, such as the existence of unequal rewards and opportunities for various social positions, have been found in empirical research to negatively impact social cohesion (Khambule & Siswana, 2017; Vergolini, 2011; Wilkinson, 1997). Insofar as UBI may be able to reduce economic and social inequalities, it could possibly contributeto increase social cohesion.

Another way in which UBI might increase social cohesion is by changing how people use their time. If people have more time for activities in which they engage with others, such as getting an education or participating in volunteer work, they may have wider social networks and thus create more social cohesion. But a UBI could also have a negative impact on social cohesion. Recipients of a UBI may decide to spend more time at home or in networks that they already have, which could possibly decrease social cohesion. So, because there is no empirical research on what types of activities people might be expected to participate in should they receive a UBI, it is difficult to estimate the impact it could have on social cohesion. Moreover, it has been argued that workplaces play a critical integrative role within democracies; economic necessity forces people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities to work together, and this daily interaction causes them to build personal ties across social divisions and practice the skills of compromise and consensus (Estlund, 2003). If a UBI means that people are no longer required to work with those with whom they would not otherwise choose to associate, it could, in the long run, decrease social cohesion and thus negatively impact social cohesion and democratic legitimacy. UBI’s potential impact on social cohesion is therefore highly variable, and there is a dearth of evidence to support any oneconclusion. More research is needed.

UBI might also impact the trust that citizens have in the state, which is yet another axis of democratic legitimacy. A basic income that is truly universal creates a service that is accessed by every citizen, from the least to most well off. Consistent citizen engagement with government services may serve to increase the legitimacy of the state as a whole, especially if those services are considered particularly important or competent. The Bolsa Familia program in Brazil demonstrated that transfer recipients showed increased trust in core state institutions, local government, and incumbent actors (Layton et al., 2017). A randomized control trial in Tanzania showed that conditional cash transfers significantly increased trust inelected leaders with a concomitant rise in the perception of government responsiveness to citizen concerns and perceived honesty of leaders (Evans et al., 2018). However, in this trial, the cash transfers were in part implemented via in-person monitoring by elected officials and were conditional on accessing other services, such as healthcare. It is possible that some of the impact on legitimacy is a result of these direct citizen-to-government interactions; if this is the case, an online UBI might actually decrease social trust as citizens engage less often with various government bureaucracies.

It may not be necessary for there to be personal contact between citizens and government officials for there to be increased legitimacy, however; digitized or online services that are sufficiently competent might have the same effect. Indeed, an online UBI might even improve perceptions of government legitimacy more, as it removes some possibilities for corruption and micro-domination in service-provision. First, such a UBI “shortens the chain” between government and citizens; removing hands through which the money must pass can result in more transparency and less corruption(World Bank, 2003). Second, it may make service-provision more equitable. “Street level” bureaucrats, those at the forefront of service provision, can be perceived by recipients as making arbitrary decisions about who canaccess benefits, for what reasons, and when. Removing this element of discretion in personal interaction may actually improve citizen-government interactions, and the net impact of UBI might be an increase in democratic trust. Preliminary results from the Finnish basic income experiment support such a conclusion, as researchers there found that basic income recipients had a small but significant increase in trust in politicians and the legal system relative to the control group (Kangas et al., 2019). The leveling of economic inequality may also contribute to such an effect; because citizens in a democracy are serviced by other citizens, micro-domination weakens social trust and the overarching legitimacy of the political community. If micro-domination is more likely to impact low-income citizens, then reduced inequality may make other forms of service provision—from schooling to healthcare—seem fairer, and the state itself more legitimate.

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Baez, J. E., Camacho, A., Conover, E., & Zárate, R. A. (2012). Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation, and Voting Behavior. The World Bank.

Campbell, D. E. (2013). Social Networks and Political Participation. Annual Review of Political Science, 16(1), 33–48.

Estlund, C. (2003). Working together: How workplace bonds strengthen a diverse democracy. Oxford University Press.

Evans, D. K., Holtemeyer, B., & Kosec, K. (2018). Cash Transfers Increase Trust in Local Government. The World Bank.

Glaeser, E. L., & Shleifer, A. (2002). The Curley Effect (NBER Working Paper No. 8942). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kangas, O., Jauhiainen, S., Simanainen, M., & Ylikännö, M. (2019). The basic income experiment 2017–2018 in Finland Preliminary results. 34.

Khambule, I., & Siswana, B. (2017). How Inequalities undermine Social Cohesion: A Case Study of South Africa [Policy Brief]. G20 Insights.

Khemani, S. (2015). Buying votes versus supplying public services: Political incentives to under-invest in pro-poor policies. Journal of Development Economics, 117, 84–93.

Khemani, S. (2019, April 19). Outsized Focus on Cash Transfers is Missing the Point. Brookings Institute Blog.

Layton, M. L., Donaghy, M. M., & Rennó, L. R. (2017). Does Welfare Provision Promote Democratic State Legitimacy? Evidence from Brazil’s Bolsa Família Program. Latin American Politics and Society, 59(4), 99–120.

Putnam, R. D., Leonardi, R., & Nonetti, R. Y. (1994). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press.

Richard Wike, Laura Silver, & Alexandra Castillo. (2019). Many Across the Globe Are Dissatisfied With How Democracy Is Working. Pew Research Center.

Rosenstone, S. J., & Hansen, J. M. (2009). Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. Pearson College Division.

Stalzer, C. (2015, August 13). Alaskans support new revenue to help address the state’s budget shortfall. Rasmuson Foundation.

Sundlee, R. (2019, September 5). Alaska’s universal basic income problem. Vox.

Vergolini, L. (2011). Social cohesion in Europe: How do the different dimensions of inequality affect social cohesion? International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 52(3), 197–214.

Wilkinson, R. G. (1997). Comment: Income, inequality, and social cohesion. American Journal of Public Health, 87(9), 1504–1506.

World Bank. (2003). World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People. The World Bank.

World Bank. (2016). Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement. The World Bank.


This section explores UBI’s possible impact on reducing income and wealth inequalities.

Income inequality is the unequal distribution of income in a society, fueled by social and economic forces that unevenly distribute economic opportunities. Income inequality is problematic for several reasons. Evidence shows that high levels of income inequality lead to crime (Kelly, 2000), bad health (Pickett & Wilkinson, 2015), and low population-wide happiness (Layard, 2003). Political theorists who advocate for republican freedom—that is, freedom from domination by others—worry that severe income inequality may allow some individuals to dominate others (Pettit, 1997). Similarly, political theorists who advocate for democratic equality—that is, equality in social status among individuals—worry that severe income inequality may reduce the social status of those who have less compared to those who have a more (Anderson, 1999). Lastly, some believe that income inequality is undesirable in itself and unjust (Phillips, 2004).

A UBI could reduce income inequality in at least four ways. First, the payment will represent a larger share of an individual’s total income for poorer households than for those who are higher on the income distribution, thus reducing relative inequities (Atkinson, 2013; Goldsmith, 2001; Humphreys et al., 2007). Second, a UBI could reduce income inequality if its funding mechanism had a gap-reducing effect—for example, if the UBI was funded through a progressive tax, such as wealth taxes (Henry, 2014) and “data taxes” (The Guardian, 2017). Third, a UBI provides income security that may allow individuals to pursue education or to change their employment, thus growing long-term income. Finally, a UBI could reduce income inequality by allowing low-income individuals to invest in crucial property and financial assets that grow in value over time. In recent decades, increases in income inequality has driven wealth inequality, although these gaps are largely driven by wealth concentration among the very highest earners (Saez and Zucman, 2016).

The gap reducing effect has been examined in conditional cash transfers programs in low- and middle-income countries. In Brazil, 4.7 percent of the 21 percent fall in the Brazilian Gini index between 1995 and 2004 was attributed to the Bolsa Familia Program, despite cash transfers representing only 0.5 percent of the average household income (F. V. Soares & Soares, 2006). Similarly, in Mexico, the Oportunidades cash transfer program was responsible for 21 percent of the 5 percent fall in the Gini index between 1996 and 2004 (Soares et al., 2018). The researchers did not speculate why the cash transfers had such a strong gap-reducing effect, but one study found that the Oportunidades cash transfers allowed poor Mexicans to invest in productive assets, which increased their agricultural income by 10 percent after 18 months (Gertler et al., 2012). This increase may explain a large part of the dramatic reduction in the Mexican Gini index over the eight-year period between 1996 and 2004.

Evidence from high-income countries is scarce but tells a different story than what has been observed in low- and middle-income countries. For example, Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) increased, rather than decreased, economic inequality both in the short run and in the long run (Kozminski & Baek, 2017). The researchers attribute this finding to differences in spending patterns across income gradients, with low-income households spending more of the dividend fund on household consumption, while high-income households might be able to direct the payment to investments. However, other research on the Alaska PDF demonstrated that higher-income households are likely to spend a larger proportion of their extra income on consumption than lower-income households (Kueng, 2018).

More research is needed to help answer some questions. First, the relationship between UBI and other economic effects, such as wealth accumulation and access to credit, is not yet understood. The gap-reducing effect may be lessened if UBI enables those on the higher end of the income distribution to invest their payment in ways that generate more returns. Second, so far, UBI pilots have been in areas with high rates of poverty (Davala et al. 2017). To predict impacts on income inequality, more studies need to be done in economies with significant numbers of both low- and high-income individuals.

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Anderson, E. (1999). What Is the Point of Equality? Ethics, 109(2).

Atkinson, A. B. (2013). Reducing income inequality in Europe | SpringerLink. IZA Journal of European Labor Studies.

Davala, S., Jhabvala, R., Standing, G., & Badgaiyan, N. (2017). Piloting Basic Income A Legacy Study Final Report (p. 52). SEWA Bharat and INBI.

Gertler, P., Martinez, S., & Rubio-Codina, M. (2012). Investing Cash Transfers to Raise Long-Term Living Standards. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1), 164–192.

Goldsmith, O. S. (2001). The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend: A Case Study in Implementation of a Basic Income Guarantee.

Henry, M. (2014). How to Fund a Universal Basic Income | Library. The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Humphreys, M., Sachs, J. D., & Stiglitz, J. (2007). Escaping the Resource Curse. Columbia University Press. New York, NY.

Kelly, M. (2000). Inequality and Crime. Review of Economics and Statistics, 82(4).

Kozminski, K., & Baek, J. (2017). Can an oil-rich economy reduce its income inequality? Empirical evidence from Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend. Energy Economics, 65, 98–104.

Kueng, L. (2018). Excess Sensitivity of High-Income Consumers* | The Quarterly Journal of Economics | Oxford Academic. *Quarterly Journal of Economics*, *133*(4).

Layard, R. (2003). Happiness: Has Social Science a Clue?

Pettit, P. (1997). Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government.

Phillips, A. (2004). Defending Equality of Outcome. Journal of Political Philosophy, 12(1).

Pickett, K. E., & Wilkinson, R. G. (2015). Income inequality and health: A causal review. Social Science & Medicine.

Soares, F. V., & Soares, S. (2006). Cash Transfer Programmes in Brazil: Impacts on Inequality and Poverty. Working Paper, International Poverty Centre, Brasilia, 35.

Soares, S., Guerreiro Osório, R., Veras Soares, F., Medeiros, M., & Zepeda, E. (2018). Conditional cash transfers in Brazil, Chile and Mexico: Impacts upon inequality. Estudios Económicos de El Colegio de México, 207–224.

The Guardian. (2017, September 15). The Guardian view on universal basic income: Tax data giants to pay for it.

This section discusses the effects UBI could have on inflation.

Inflation is a sustained general increase in the prices of goods and services. It should be distinguished from an increase in the prices of some specific goods—such as oil—as well as a temporary rise in prices, such as hand sanitzer during a pandemic. Inflation comes in different degrees of severity: it may be low/moderate or high/hyper. High and hyperinflation can disrupt the economy, with destructive consequences. It can also lead to hoarding, shortages of goods, closures of businesses, and social unrest. Low/moderate inflation can have similar negative effects to a lesser degree, but it can also have some positive effects, such as stimulating lending and investment as a substitute for holding cash (Mundell, 1963; Tobin, 1965), and allowing wages to fall in real terms, hence lowering unemployment (Tobin, 1995).

A small number of critics argue that a UBI policy would lead to high/hyperinflation that could reduce the ‘real value’ of UBI payments (Tcherneva, 2012; Tcherneva & Wray, 2005). In this view, a large-scale, tax-and-spend financed UBI program would be unsustainable because a UBI might decrease labor supply (because people could opt out of the workforce), undermine production, and thus contract the aggregate incomes required to finance the program (Tcherneve, 2012). The alternative would be to finance a UBI using government issued currency, however this may devalue currencies and reduce the ‘real’ value of the cash transfer (Tcherneva, 2012). Inflationary pressures would make the transfer self-defeating by introducing a vicious cycle where high inflation reduces the purchasing power of the cash transfers, hence pressuring policymakers to increase the transfer amount to ensure it would be high enough for subsistence, pushing inflation even higher (Tcherneva & Wray, 2005). These concerns rely on the assumption that individuals receiving transfers will naturally de-value money’s purchasing power, leading to inflation.

The economic consensus is that general inflation is caused by growth in money supply outpacing economic growth, and that high general inflation is caused by excessive growth in the supply of money (Mankiw, 2002). But most economists do not share the hypothetical concern that a UBI would cause high and general inflation, because there is no reason to assume that a UBI could not be financed by taxes and dividends—which would use money already in circulation, rather than newly printed money. Insofar as inflation does not involve an expansion in money supply, then, a UBI should not lead to high or hyperinflation.

There may be more reason to worry about a UBI causing low to moderate inflation and increasing the prices of certain goods, but there remains quite a bit of uncertainty about the degree of this effect. First, a UBI could potentially lead to an increase in the price of some goods by increasing purchasing power and, thus, the demand for those goods. That is, by increasing an individual’s real income, a UBI could make people demand more of some types of goods—for example, housing. If the supply for specific goods is unable to respond to an increase in demand, then suppliers with greater market power may continue to raise the price for those specific goods as the demand increases. For example, a UBI may provide more income for housing, but difficulties in rapidly increasing supply due to a number of factors (e.g., zoning restrictions, labor supply, construction costs) may actually strain demand and cause prices to increase, decreasing the value of the additional income. How quickly markets are able to respond to an increase in demand depends on how integrated the markets for goods in the UBI-provided area are with markets in the wider economy (Gentilini et al., 2019).

So far, empirical evidence specifically on UBI’s potential impact on either low/moderate or hyperinflation is limited. Existing evidence from one-time, unconditional cash transfers has shown that there has been minimal impact on inflation, however this may be because the type of transfer did not create the sustained pressure necessary to change people’s spending habits, which could happen if there was a steady stream of income. In a large-scale experiment in Kenya, researchers found that a one-time cash grant of US$1,000 to villagers—which amounted to over 15 percent of local GDP—had a minimal effect on the prices of goods in general (Egger et al., 2019). Evidence from other one-time cash transfers suggests the same conclusion. In Kuwait, a one-time cash grant of US$3,600 was paid to every citizen in 2011 to celebrate the country’s fiftieth anniversary; it had no impact on inflation (“Arab Economies: Throwing Money at the Street,” 2011). Similarly, in Australia, one-off cash bonuses to 80 percent of working-age adults in 2008 and 2009—averaging around AUD$1,600, or 4–5 percent of average income—were found to have no impact on inflation (Gentilini et al., 2019).

Evidence for UBI’s impact on prices of specific goods is similarly scarce, and it is challenging to extrapolate cross-contextually. In Mexico, cash transfers delivered as part of Nutrition Support Program (Programa de Apoyo Alimentario or PAL) increased food prices in the villages by a small but statistically significant amount, while an in-kind provision of a basic basket of food (of equivalent value) decreased food prices by 4 percent on average (Cunha & Giorgi, n.d.). In other words, while there was increased demand for certain goods, the increase in the supply from the in-kind transfers was larger than the effect of the increased cash from transfers to the community. As mentioned above, though, some supply chains are more elastic than others and therefore it is difficult to infer that the impacts from these rural studies would be applicable for major urban centers.

Overall, there is a discrepancy between the popular concern about UBI’s impact on inflation and the extent and strength of the evidence to support this claim. Despite extensive studies on many aspects of the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend program, for instance, little attention has been paid to its impact on inflation. Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that few economists think that the worry is valid. But a more limited version of the worry—not that UBI would generate high or hyperinflation, but that UBI might lead either to low/moderate inflation, or to an increase in the prices of some important goods, such as housing and medicines—is worth investigating more thoroughly through modeling or simulations. Existing studies have focused on the impact of cash transfers on food prices in low-income economies. More evidence on other types of goods, especially from advanced economies, is needed. Additional research is also needed on how particular financing mechanisms will impact inflation differently. One paid through a progressive income tax-financed program is going to potentially have different effects than one paid for through a value-added tax (VAT).

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Arab Economies: Throwing Money at the Street. (2011, March 10). The Economist.

Cunha, J. M., & Giorgi, G. D. (n.d.). The Price Effects of Cash Versus In-Kind Transfers. 60.

Egger, D., Haushofer, J., Miguel, E., Niehaus, P., & Walker, M. (2019). General Equilibrium Effects of Cash Transfers: Experimental Evidence from Kenya (No. w26600; p. w26600). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Gentilini, U., Grosh, M., Rigolini, J., & Yemtsov, R. (Eds.). (2019). Exploring Universal Basic Income: A Guide to Navigating Concepts, Evidence, and Practices. The World Bank.

Mankiw, G. (2002). Macroeconomics (5th ed.). Worth.

Mundell, R. (1963). Inflation and Interest Rates. Journal of Political Economy, 71(3), 280-283.

Tcherneva, P. R. (2012). The Job Guarantee: Delivering the Benefits That Basic Income Only Promises – A Response to Guy Standing. Basic Income Studies, 7(2).

Tcherneva, P. R., & Wray, L. R. (2005). Can Basic Income and Job Guarantees Deliver on Their Promises? SSRN Electronic Journal.

Tobin, J. (1965). Money and Economic Growth. Econometrica, 33.

Tobin, J. (1995). Inflation and Unemployment. In S. Estrin & A. Marin (Eds.), Essential Readings in Economics (pp. 232–254). Macmillan Education UK.

This section discusses UBI’s potential effects on consumption.

How might a UBI policy affect an individual or household’s consumption behavior? On the one hand, there is the question of whether a UBI would increase or decrease consumption expenditure. This question is of interest because consumption expenditure is often used as a proxy for well-being and is thought to boost economic growth, which has multiplier effects. UBI’s potential impact on consumption can also be viewed through the lens of what kinds of goods are purchased or consumed. Will the cash be used to purchase luxuries or necessities? Assets or non-durable goods? “Temptation goods”—such as alcohol, tobacco, or even drugs—or everyday household goods? The latter set of questions has been central to policymakers’ decisions on whether to favor cash over in-kind goods.

Most findings from developing economies show significant positive impact on consumption expenditures in the short-term. A study on GiveDirectly’s UBI program in Kenya finds that monthly cash transfers were spent mostly on food (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016). This is consistent with evidence from targeted, unconditional cash transfer programs. A review of evidence in four African countries finds that relatively large, regular and predictable unconditional cash transfers significantly increased the quantity and quality of food consumed (Tiwari et al., 2016). Evidence suggests that these impacts may last beyond the short term. A follow-up study on the GiveDirectly program three years after the first transfer found that recipients still consumed 25 percent more compared to those who didn’t receive the transfers (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2018). Similarly, a study of two unconditional cash transfer programs in Zambia showed a strong long-term positive impact on consumption and food security, with households spending on average 67 percent more than the value of the transfers received (Handa et al., 2018).

It is less clear that UBI leads to consumption changes in high-income countries. This is not surprising, as fewer credit constraints likely smooth consumption in high-income contexts as compared to low- and middle-income settings where credit is less available. A review of evidence from the negative income tax experiments in the United States in the 1970s found that the programs had no or small effects on consumption (Hanushek, 1987). In the case of housing, the guaranteed income merely altered the timing of already planned purchases (Hanushek, 1987). This could be, in part, a result of people expecting these programs to be temporary, or it could be that more access to credit allows them to more easily smooth their consumption over time. Limited impacts on consumption are also observed in the regularly distributed Alaska Permanent Dividend program (Hsieh, 2003), although findings are inconsistent (Kueng, 2015).

Regarding what individuals consume, evidence suggests that the size and regularity of the transfer matters. In the GiveDirectly experiment in Kenya, monthly transfers were spent mostly on food, while lump-sum transfers were spent more on durables, such as metal roofs (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016). In unconditional cash transfer programs across four African countries, regular and predictable cash transfers increased food consumption, while lump sum and irregular transfers did not, at least in the short run (Tiwari et al., 2016). Households that received irregular cash transfers, such as those in a program in Ghana, were found to spend differently from households that received regular transfers (Food and Agricultural Organization, 2016). Evidence from high-income economies is scarce on the question of what individuals consume or how they spend their cash, but preliminary results from a small-scale guaranteed income demonstration in Stockton, California, suggests that, of the $500 per month UBI, about 40 percent went toward food, 25 percent toward merchandise, and 12 percent toward utilities (Holder, 2019).

As to whether UBI will increase consumption of “temptation goods,” such as alcohol and tobacco, studies give a nearly unanimous answer: no. Evidence from Namibia (Haarmann et al., 2009) and India (Davala et al., 2017) show no effect of cash transfers on alcohol sale. A comprehensive review of 19 studies—covering evidence from both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs in Latin America, Africa and Asia—finds that, almost without exception, cash transfers had either no significant impact or a significant negative impact on consumption of temptation goods, and that where spending increased the magnitude was small (Evans & Popova, 2014).

In general, evidence suggests that cash transfer programs tend to increase consumption expenditure significantly in developing economies, both in the short run and the long run. Evidence from UBI programs is consistent with this more general result. The effects of cash transfers in advanced economies are more ambivalent. More research is needed, especially from advanced economies, as to the kinds of goods that people would spend their UBI on, and what factors might determine their spending. The concern that UBI might increase consumption of temptation goods, however, has been shown to be untrue.

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Davala, S., Jhabvala, R., Standing, G., Badgaiyan, N., & Bharat, S. (2017). Piloting Basic Income A Legacy Study Final Report (p. 52). SEWA Bharat and INBI.

Evans, D. K., & Popova, A. (2014). Cash Transfers and Temptation Goods: A Review of Global Evidence. 36.

Food and Agricultural Organization. (2016). Cash transfers: Their economic and productive impacts: Evidence from Programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa. 4.

Haarmann, C., Haarmann, D., Jauch, H., Shindondola-Mote, H., Nattrass, N., van Niekerk, I., & Samson, M. (2009). Making the difference! The BIG in Namibia. Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Handa, S., Natali, L., Seidenfeld, D., Tembo, G., & Davis, B. (2018). Can unconditional cash transfers raise long-term living standards? Evidence from Zambia. Journal of Development Economics, 133, 42–65.

Hanushek, E. A. (1987). Non-Labor-Supply Responses to the Income Maintenance Experiments. In Lessons from the Income Maintenance Experiments. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Brookings Institution.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2016). The Short-term Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers to the Poor: ExperimentalEvidence from Kenya*. *The Quarterly Journal of Economics*, *131*(4), 1973–2042.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2018). The Long-Term Impact of Unconditional Cash Tranfers: Experimental Evidence from Kenya. Working Paper, 64.

Holder, S. (2019, October 3). In Stockton, Early Clues Emerge About Impact of Guaranteed Income. CityLab.

Tiwari, S., Daidone, S., Ruvalcaba, M. A., Prifti, E., Handa, S., Davis, B., Niang, O., Pellerano, L., Quarles van Ufford, P., & Seidenfeld, D. (2016). Impact of cash transfer programs on food security and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa: A cross-country analysis. Global Food Security, 11, 72–83.

This section discusses UBI’s potential effects on migration.

We use the term ‘migration’ to describe movement of persons within their own country or across international borders. It can be temporary or permanent moves, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to UBI, researchers question how the policy might “push” or “pull” individuals into or out of a region, especially since migration is generally on the rise. In 2019, more than 270 million individuals were international migrants, accounting for 3.5 percent of the world’s population, up from 2.3 percent in 1970 (International Organization for Migration, 2018). Internal migration within countries is also increasing, largely driven by industrialization and urbanization (Skeldon, 2018).

Some researchers have raised concerns that UBI could have a “pull effect,” pulling in migrants from other areas. The theory is that people will be attracted to regions or countries where benefits are more generous, and so they would be pulled into UBI zones. But empirical evidence from high-income countries on internal migration between regions with more or less generous benefits systems indicates that this fear is likely misplaced. Changes or differences in benefit structures generally result in only limited (Kaestner et al., 2003; Levine & Zimmerman, 1999; Schwartz & Sommers, 2014) or small effects on migration (McKinnish, 2005). For example, there was no evidence of migration effects following expansions to Medicaid in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and New York in the United States (Schwartz & Sommers, 2014). Larger effects have been observed in cities very near the border of states where benefits are expanded—as was the case with Health Care Reform in Massachusetts—however there are no significant effects beyond 15 kms from the border (Alm & Enami, 2017).

A UBI could also have a push effect, either by relaxing liquidity constraints—meaning individuals have the cash needed to make a potentially costly move—or by giving people the flexibility to move to areas with higher rates of unemployment and limited labour demand. In the first scenario, it is likely this push effect would be seen more among low-income populations and into areas with high upfront migration costs (e.g., major metropolitan areas) (Cai, 2020). In a study of Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, for example, large cash transfers induced migration from rural to urban areas by providing funds to support the migration project (Kurland, 2017). While the size of the effect was small in the short-term, the long-term effects of such programs could be larger, and the full range of social and economic consequences remain unclear. Once a number of people have moved out to a city, it becomes easier for new migrants to follow due to network effects (Kurland, 2017). This may have adverse effects on some services within rural areas. In the case of Alaska, for instance, out-migration of women and children from very small Northern Native villages led first to school closure and then the eventual disappearance of the village (Martin, 2009).

A UBI, however, may also allow people to remain where they are despite poor economic prospects, or, in the second potential push effect, allow them to move to regions with lower rates of employment. A study of unconditional cash transfer programs in four African countries, for instance, showed that cash transfer helped farmers diversify their sources of income, making them less prone to environmental risks and mitigating their need to migrate out (Deshingkar et al., 2015). In Ethiopia and Malawi, farmers have used cash transfers to stay in their communities and endure worsening conditions (Deshingkar et al., 2015).

There is far less evidence on how UBI may impact international migration. An individual’s decision to migrate depends on many factors, such as job prospects, language, social networks, cultural compatibility, and historical and institutional links. Welfare spending does not have a large effect on where someone choses to live and is generally outweighed by other factors (Boso & Vancea, 2012). Having access to a UBI in one’s own country could decrease the need to migrate to another country. A study of Mexico’s conditional cash transfer program, Progresa, for example, found that cash transfers there reduced migration to the United States (Stecklov et al., 2005). Other studies, by contrast, report net push effects. One found that cash transfers actually increased migration from Mexico to the United States by providing funds to facilitate a move (Angelucci, 2015). A study in China found that an income-guarantee program had only a small effect on out-migration, because the amount was too small to fund out-migration.

The benefits from migration to host countries are multifold. Migrants fill important niches in industries, contribute to labor market flexibility, generally contribute more to taxes than the state benefits they receive, and contribute to flows of knowledge and innovation (OECD, 2014). But, given growing nationalist sentiments globally, some researchers worry that more generous benefit systems—like a UBI—could stoke anti-immigration sentiments due to concerns about heavier use of the welfare state. A recent Pew research survey, for example, found that in Hungary, Greece, South Africa, Israel and Russia, an overwhelming majority view immigrants as a “burden on our country” (Pew Research Center, 2019). A UBI tied to citizenship could ultimately make it harder for migrants to become naturalized citizens. A UBI tied to residency could make it harder for migrants to be allowed in the host country in the first place.

Much is still unknown about the impact of a UBI policy on migration. Evidence is highly variable across country contexts, suggesting that UBI may interact with other factors to produce different effects in different places. The size of both the pull and the push effects may also depend on the residency requirements that people must satisfy in order to receive UBI, the numbers and categories of immigrants granted entry to a country, and the generosity of the welfare or income guarantee. More research is needed on the demographic profile of individuals who are more or less likely to migrate in or out as a result of UBI, and on factors such as seasonality and distance on migration patterns.

Related topics

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Alm, J., & Enami, A. (2017). Do government subsidies to low-income individuals affect interstate migration? Evidence from the Massachusetts Health Care Reform. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 66(C), 119–131.

Angelucci, M. (2015). Migration and Financial Constraints: Evidence from Mexico. Review of Economics and Statistics, 97(1), 224–228.

Boso, À., & Vancea, M. (2012). Basic Income for Immigrants? The Pull Effect of Social Benefits on Migration. Basic Income Studies, 7(1).

Cai, S. (2020). Migration under liquidity constraints: Evidence from randomized credit access in China. Journal of Development Economics, 142, 102247.

Deshingkar, D., Wood, R. G., & Béné, C. (2015). Adaptive Social Protection and Migration: The Case of Cash Transfers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi.

Howell, A. (2017). Direct and Spillover Effects of Targeted Cash Transfers on Ethnic Rural-Urban Migration in China (SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3056120). Social Science Research Network.

International Organization for Migration. (2018). World Migration Report 2018. United Nations Publications.

Kaestner, R., Kaushal, N., & Van Ryzin, G. (2003). Migration consequences of welfare reform. Journal of Urban Economics, 53(3), 357–376.

Kurland, S. (2017). Effects of Transfer Income on Migration and Rural Unemployment: Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. 113.

Levine, P. B., & Zimmerman, D. J. (1999). An empirical analysis of the welfare magnet debate using the NLSY. Journal of Population Economics, 12(3), 391–409.

Martin, S. (2009). The effects of female out-migration on Alaska villages. Polar Geography, 32(1–2), 61–67.

McKinnish, T. (2005). Importing the Poor: Welfare Magnetism and Cross-Border Welfare Migration. The Journal of Human Resources, 15(1), 57–76.

OECD. (2014, May). Is Migration Good for the Economy? The Migration Debate.

Pew Research Center. (2019, March). Global Opinions of Immigrants.

Schwartz, A. L., & Sommers, B. D. (2014). Moving For Medicaid? Recent Eligibility Expansions Did Not Induce Migration From Other States. Health Affairs, 33(1), 88–94.

Skeldon, R. (2018). International Migration, Internal Migration, Mobility and Urbanization: Towards more Integrated Approaches (No. 53; Migration Research Series). International Organization for Migration.

Stecklov, G., Winters, P., Stampini, M., & Davis, B. (2005). Do Conditional Cash Transfers Influence Migration? A Study Using Experimental Data From the Mexican PROGRESA Program. Demography, 42(4), 769–790.

This section discusses UBI’s potential impact on labor supply and individual’s use of time.

A common worry about universal basic income is that it could reduce people’s incentive to work, thus causing a number of domino effects in the economy. The disincentive effect, for instance, could reduce productivity and the number of goods produced and increase the number of individuals who only rely on assistance to survive. The disincentive effect could also lead to inflation as businesses would need to pay higher wages to retain workers, and the higher wages would push production costs up, translating into increased costs for consumers. The evidence from existing UBI related schemes, however, negates many of these concerns and, overall, indicates that UBI-related programs have marginal effects on labor market participation.

Much of the concern about work incentives comes from four negative income tax programs in the United States and the “Mincome” program in Canada in the 1970s. These experiments had mixed results, with some economists pointing to negligible effects on labor supply (Hum & Simpson, 1993) and others pointing to large negative effects, namely from the Seattle-Denver experiment (Anderson & Block, 1993). The polarized literature divides roughly along ideological lines and is perhaps partly a result of the explicit political goals of the 1970s experiments (Widerquist, 2005). Later reviews of the literature point out that early studies tended to emphasize different parts of the results, and that the actual effects were likely complex (Widerquist, 2018).

What is clear from the North American experiments, however, is that a basic income guarantee could have different effects on different groups’ decisions to work. In cases where UBI led to a reduction in work, evidence often showed that individuals redirected the time they gained to other valued activities. For example, data from the Mincome program (Forget, 2011) found that female heads of household with young children dropped out of work at the highest rate to take longer maternity leaves. In both Gary, Illinois, (McDonald & Stephenson, 1979) and Manitoba, Canada, (Forget, 2018; Prescott et al., 1986) younger men reduced work hours to remain in school longer.

Evidence from more recent experiments confirms findings of minimal labour market effects in both low-income and high-income economies. Evidence from Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend and from the recent UBI experiment in Finland, for example, shows no significant effect on labor supply, employment level or working hours (Guettabi, 2019; Kela & the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2019). In the case of the Alaska PFD, one explanation is that any disincentive effects from cash transfers might be offset by increased spending, which leads to increased demand for workers (Jones & Marinescu, 2018). There are some disputes, however, as to the extent that the Alaska PDF increases consumption (Hsieh, 2003; Kueng, 2015, 2018).

In low-income contexts, results from both UBI and other cash transfer programs consistently show no negative impact on labor supply. In some cases, there has even been positive impacts from investments in small businesses or from economic spill-overs to the local economy. A report from a basic income pilot in Namibia, for example, found a significant increase in income-generating activities among recipients of the cash transfers (Haarmann et al., 2009). In Kenya, adult labor supply was found to increase, and child labor found to decrease in response to the Cash Transfer Program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (Asfew, 2013). Similar boosts in workforce participation and employment were reported for South Africa’s three targeted unconditional cash transfer programs (Samson et al., 2004).

The studies reviewed here provide insight into possible labor effects, however there have been significant changes to the labour market since many of the experiments were carried out. These changes make it difficult to predict whether similar outcomes would be observed in contemporary experiments. More research is needed to disentangle the complex relationship between labor supply and demand, and more data is needed on the differential impacts between demographic groups. More evidence is also needed on how factors in the local economy where a UBI is introduced impacts outcomes like labor market participation.

Related topics

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Anderson, G. M., & Block, W. (1993). Comment on Hum and Simpson. Journal of Labor Economics, 11(1, Part 2), 17.

Asfew, S. (2013). The impact of the Kenya CT-OVC programme on productive activities and labour allocation. Working Paper.

Forget, E. L. (2011). The Town with No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Forget, E. L. (2018). Basic Income for Canadians: The key to a healthier, happier, more secure life for all. James Lorimer & Company.

Guettabi, M. (2019). What do we know about the effects of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend? Working Paper.

Haarmann, C., Haarmann, D., Jauch, H., Shindondola-Mote, H., Nattrass, N., van Niekerk, I., & Samson, M. (2009). Making the difference! The BIG in Namibia. Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Hsieh, C.-T. (2003). Do Consumers React to Anticipated Income Changes? Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund. American Economic Review, 93(1), 397–405.

Hum, D., & Simpson, W. (1993). Economic Response to a Guaranteed Annual Income: Experience from Canada and the United States. Journal of Labor Economics, 11(1, Part 2), S263–S296.

Jones, D., & Marinescu, I. (2018). The Labor Market Impacts of Universal and Permanent Cash Transfers: Evidence from the Alaska Permanent Fund (Working Paper No. 24312). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kela & the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (2019, February 8). Preliminary results of the basic income experiment: Self-perceived wellbeing improved, during the first year no effects on employment.

Kueng, L. (2015). Revisiting the Response of Household Spending to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Using CE Data (SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2634005). Social Science Research Network.

Kueng, L. (2018). Excess Sensitivity of High-Income Consumers* | The Quarterly Journal of Economics | Oxford Academic. *Quarterly Journal of Economics*, *133*(4).

McDonald, J. F., & Stephenson, S. P. (1979). The Effect of Income Maintenance on the School-Enrollment and Labor-Supply Decisions of Teenagers. The Journal of Human Resources, 14(4), 488.

Prescott, D., Swidinsky, R., & Wilton, D. A. (1986). Labour Supply Estimates for Low-Income Female Heads of Household Using Mincome Data. The Canadian Journal of Economics, 19(1), 134.

Samson, M., Lee, U., Ndlebe, A., MacQuene, K., & van Niekerk, I. (2004). Final Report: The Social and Economic Impact of South Africa’s Social Security System (p. 290).

Widerquist, K. (2005). A failure to communicate: What (if anything) can we learn from the negative income tax experiments? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 34(1), 49–81.

Widerquist, K. (2018). A Critical Analysis of Basic Income Experiments for Researchers, Policymakers, and Citizens. Springer International Publishing.

This section discusses UBI’s potential effects on savings and investment.

For many people, one of the most important objectives of UBI is to reduce poverty. The hope is that UBI would not only help people meet their daily needs, but also provide the basis for a more secure life by facilitating investments in asset accumulation and human capital development, both of which provide pathways out of poverty.

Other welfare or cash assistance policies place limits on what assets an individual can hold in order to receive support, or they reduce the level of assistance an individual receives if he or she has income from wages or earnings. But UBI is an income floor, or ‘base,’ which means it may then allow for savings and investment of additional income into productive assets. Savings create a pathway out of poverty because it helps relax credit constraints that limit people’s ability to make bigger purchases—such as farming equipment or housing improvements—that contribute to long-term income (Banerjee et al., 2019). Savings also act as a safety net for people to participate in productive activities such as education and take up riskier enterprises such as entrepreneurship (Banerjee et al., 2019; Hoynes & Rothstein, 2019).

While evidence of the impact of UBI on savings is scarce for high-income countries, evidence in low- and middle-income settings robustly supports the notion that UBI encourages savings. Evidence from Kenya’s GiveDirectly unconditional cash experiment, for example, led to significant increases in savings in the short run (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016), as did unconditional cash transfer programs in Zambia (Handa et al., 2018; Natali et al., 2016). Conditional cash transfer programs (Angelucci et al., 2012; Covarrubias et al., 2012) have arrived at similar conclusions. Moreover, there is some evidence that the savings effect may persist for several years. In the Kenyan experiment, recipients still held 40 percent more assets and financial savings than non-recipients three years after the transfer (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2018). The more long-term durability is less clear, with one study indicating that the effect on savings diminished over nine years (Blattman et al., 2018).

How much of the extra income from UBI do people invest? Most studies of cash transfer programs in developing countries suggest people invest a large proportion of the overall amount. In the GiveDirectly experiment, differences in assets were largely driven by investments in productive assets such as livestock and durables (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016). In Malawi, unconditional cash transfers to low-income households led to significantly increased investment in agricultural assets (Covarrubias et al., 2012). In Mexico, recipients of the Oportunidades conditional cash transfers were found to invest 26 percent of their extra income, increasing agricultural income by 10 percent per person after 18 months (Gertler et al., 2012). A conditional cash transfer program in Nicaragua, however, was found to have no significant impact on either agricultural or non-agricultural investment (Malucci, 2010).

The types of assets that people invest in are also influenced by economics opportunities where they live. In poorer areas, people tend to invest their income from cash transfers in basic durable goods, such as metal roofs (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2016), while individuals in agricultural economies are more likely to invest in agricultural assets such as livestock and crop implements (Covarrubias et al., 2012; Gertler et al., 2012). Across contexts, people invest a significant proportion of their extra income in human capital, such as health and education. Robust evidence from Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa shows that cash transfers boosted school enrolment, especially for girls, and healthcare spending, especially on children (Barrientos & DeJong, 2006; Davis et al., 2012; Fiszbein et al., 2019). In Canada, male adolescents in Manitoba deferred entering the workforce in order to continue school attendance (Forget, 2011).

Several other factors related to the design features of the transfer and the contextual conditions where it is delivered are also relevant for UBI’s effect on savings and investment. The frequency of payment, for example, was found to affect savings in Kenya (Haushofer & Shapiro, 2018), with more/less frequent payments associated with greater spending on durable goods. While research from high-income contexts is scarce, there is some evidence to suggest differences in patterns of savings and investment. The most evidence for UBI’s impact on savings is from lower-income contexts where individuals face more severe credit constraints, while less is known about contexts where credit is more readily accessible. Evidence from a conditional cash transfer program in Mexico shows that urban recipients who enjoyed more access to credit than their rural counterparts used the cash transfers to pay off debts, and that savings was a smaller proportion of their income (Angelucci et al., 2012). In the case of the Alaska Permanent Dividend Fund (PDF), a universal transfer, the way that transfers are used may be related to a recipient’s income. For example, researchers theorized that an increase in economic inequality was due to differences in how the disbursement was used, with high-income households directing the transfer to investments, increasing the wealth gap (Kozminski & Baek, 2017).

What are alternatives to UBI in alleviating income inequality? We know that ownership of income-generating assets is an important source of income inequality (Birdsall & Londodo, 1997). So, one alternative to UBI is “basic capital”—a relatively large, unconditional, one-time, lump-sum grant, given to every adult in a community (Alstott & Ackerman, 1999; White, 2011). Basic capital has one important advantage over UBI: it allows recipients to invest a larger proportion of their grants upfront, thus offering more opportunity than UBI for low-income individuals to own income-generating assets. Basic capital, however, has limitations of its own and the proposed amount is generally smaller than the total amount of UBI over the long run.

Overall, while more evidence from advanced economies is needed, the evidence on UBI’s positive effects on savings and investment is promising. More research is also needed on how program factors (such as frequency of payment) affect savings and investment, and on which groups (based on factors such as income, gender, or family composition) see the largest effects.

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Alstott, A., & Ackerman, B. (1999). The Stakeholder Society. Yale University Press.

Angelucci, M., Attanasio, O., & Di Maro, V. (2012). The Impact of Oportunidades on Consumption, Savings and Transfers. Fiscal Studies, 33(3), 305–334.

Baird, S., Ferreira, F. H. G., Özler, B., & Woolcock, M. (2013). Relative Effectiveness of Conditional and Unconditional Cash Transfers for Schooling Outcomes in Developing Countries: A Systematic Review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 9(1), 1–124.

Baird, S., Hoop, J. de, & Özler, B. (2013). Income Shocks and Adolescent Mental Health. Journal of Human Resources, 48(2), 370–403.

Baird, S., McIntosh, C., & Ozler, B. (2011). Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Cash Transfer Experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4).

Banerjee, A., Niehaus, P., & Suri, T. (2019). Universal Basic Income in the Developing World. Annual Review of Economics, 11(1), 959–983.

Barrientos, A., & DeJong, J. (2006). Reducing Child Poverty with Cash Transfers: A Sure Thing? - Barrientos—2006—Development Policy Review—Wiley Online Library. Development Policy Review, 24(5).

Birdsall, N., & Londodo, J. L. (1997). Asset Inequality Matters: An Assessment of the World Bank’s Approach to Poverty Reduction. American Economic Review, 87(2).

Blattman, C., Fiala, N., & Martinez, S. (2018, September). The Long Term Impacts of Grants on Poverty: 9-year Evidence From Uganda’s Youth Opportunities Program.

Covarrubias, K., Davis, B., & Winters, P. (2012). From protection to production: Productive impacts of the Malawi Social Cash Transfer scheme. Journal of Development Effectiveness, 4(1), 50–77.

Davis, B., Gaarder, M., Handa, S., & Yablonski, J. (2012). Evaluating the impact of cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa: An introduction to the special issue. Journal of Development Studies, 4(1).

Fiszbein, A., Schady, N., Ferreira, F. H. G., & Grosh, M. (2019). Conditional Cash Transfers: Reducing Present and Future Poverty (World Bank Policy Research Report).

Forget, E. L. (2011). The Town with No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Gertler, P., Martinez, S., & Rubio-Codina, M. (2012). Investing Cash Transfers to Raise Long-Term Living Standards. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(1), 164–192.

Handa, S., Natali, L., Seidenfeld, D., Tembo, G., & Davis, B. (2018). Can unconditional cash transfers raise long-term living standards? Evidence from Zambia. Journal of Development Economics, 133, 42–65.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2016). The Short-term Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers to the Poor: Experimental Evidence from Kenya. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(4), 1973–2042.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2018). The Long-Term Impact of Unconditional Cash Tranfers: Experimental Evidence from Kenya. Working Paper, 64.

Hoynes, H., & Rothstein, J. (2019). Universal Basic Income in the US and Advanced Countries (No. w25538). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kozminski, K., & Baek, J. (2017). Can an oil-rich economy reduce its income inequality? Empirical evidence from Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend. Energy Economics, 65, 98–104.

Malucci, J. A. (2010). The Impact of Conditional Cash Transfers on Consumption and Investment in Nicaragua: The Journal of Development Studies: Vol 46, No 1. Journal of Development Studies, 46(1).

Maynard, R. A., & Murnane, R. J. (1979). The Effects of a Negative Income Tax on School Performance: Results of an Experiment. The Journal of Human Resources, 14(4), 463.

Miller, C., Miller, R., Verma, N., & Dechausay, N. (2016). Effects of a Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Two American Cities | MDRC.

Natali, L., Handa, S., Peterman, A., Seidenfeld, D., & Tembo, G. (2016). Making Money Work: Unconditional cash transfers allow women to save and re-invest in rural Zambia.

Siddiqi, A., Rajaram, A., & Miller, S. P. (2018). Do cash transfer programmes yield better health in the first year of life? A systematic review linking low-income/middle-income and high-income contexts. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 103(10), 920–926.

White, S. (2011). Basic income versus basic capital: Can we resolve the disagreement? Policy & Politics.


This section considers how UBI could help displace racialized welfare stereotypes in the United States.

During the twentieth century, welfare and antipoverty policies were repeatedly tainted by negative racialized stereotypes, which contributed to policies prone to exacerbating social and racial inequities rather than alleviating them (Bhattacharya, 2019). In the 1930s, under the New Deal, welfare in the United States, also known as the Aid to Dependent Children, was created to offer financial assistance to women whose husbands couldn’t work, were absent or dead. The architects designed the policies assuming that most beneficiaries would be white widows. When poor Black women applied, they were systematically discriminated: their claims were rejected or additional conditions were imposed on them to qualify (Nadasen, 2005).

Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, with poverty on the rise, civil rights movements began demanding radical changes to the welfare system in the form of a guaranteed income. But, at the same time, organized groups started developing rhetoric that connected blackness with welfare abuse. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family: The Case for National Action listed a series of ills, including welfare dependency, that he argued directly contributed to poverty in Black America (Moynihan, 1965). In 1976, Ronald Reagan, while campaigning in the presidential primaries, introduced the case of a woman in Chicago who was fraudulently taking advantage of public welfare. The woman had 80 different names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards, and drove a pink Cadillac around to cash her various welfare checks. While Reagan never mentioned that she was Black, he didn’t have to—the narrative fit the perception that many white, working-class Americans had at the time (Cammett, 2014; Primuth, 2016). The story helped craft the myth of the “Welfare Queen,” which demonizes Black women as lazy, promiscuous, negligent mothers who free-ride on public assistance and have no self-discipline or work ethic (Covert, 2019; Masters et al., 2014). Reagan and other politicians would go on to use the trope of the welfare queen, as well as other racialized stereotypes, to decrease overall support for public assistance and to enforce policies that systematically excluded African American citizens (Black & Sprague, 2017; Neubeck & Cazenave, 2001; Primuth, 2016).

Today, despite the fact that most welfare recipients are white or Latinx, racialized stereotypes are still pervasive, undermining access to welfare and perpetuating racial disparities in the United States (Black & Sprague, 2017). The ratios of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grants to the number of families with children in poverty are the lowest in the states with the largest share of Black Americans: almost 40 percent of the nation’s Black population lives in states with ratios (known as TPRs) of 10 or less, compared to only 28 percent of the white population. Therefore, nationally, Black families are less likely than white families to have access to TANF assistance when they fall into crisis (Floyd et al., 2018). By failing to ensure that the Black community has access to basic necessities, inadequate government welfare policies perpetuate racial and gender injustices. The disinvestment in welfare policies as a result of anti-blackness further harms other communities living in poverty since it contributes to undermining support for public assistance more generally.

A UBI could potentially mitigate some of the consequences of racialized welfare stereotypes. A UBI, unlike other welfare reforms, normalizes social assistance because it is administered universally to each citizen, regardless of individual financial status, thus making it more difficult to fuel the myth that recipients are disproportionately Black and female (Bidadanure, 2019; Shelby, 2017; Warren, 2016). If every citizen receives universal benefits from the government, it may become more difficult to vilify certain groups as scroungers, and it may disrupt the way welfare is coded in the United States. The historical processes that have associated welfare with free riding have undermined support for assistance and made it harder for recipients to preserve dignity and respect. Turning all residents of a national community into a recipient could potentially alleviate some of the stigma connected with receiving public assistance.

Anti-blackness, however, is a far more pervasive problem than the resulting consequence of racialized welfare stigmatization. It is entirely reasonable to expect the deeply rooted phenomenon would find other ways to manifest itself and continue to undermine economic and social equality. Various efforts to induce a larger cultural shift away from structural racism and racist representations is also key to witnessing positive change.

More indirectly, but very importantly, UBI could help challenge the current racial and gendered narratives about the importance of other types of work, including caregiving (such as caring for an older adult, disabled person or child) which is currently largely performed by women of color (Nadasen, 2005). A sufficiently high UBI would make dedicating time to care-work within one’s own family or community more financially viable and, in turn, destigmatize it and help it regain the centrality it deserves (Robeyns, 2001; Zelleke, 2008). As previously noted, it would be naïve to expect these narrative changes to happen without a concerted effort to also challenge cultural and discursive tenets more directly. But, by potentially removing some barriers to access associated with the conditions currently placed on public welfare benefits (e.g. employment status, marital status, drug testing, among others, used to specifically exclude particular groups) and by facilitating the choice of caring for one’s own family without living in abject poverty, UBI could nonetheless have a positive impact on racial justice.

It is, of course, impossible for a single policy to reverse decades of intentionally manufactured negative public perception around welfare itself. For all the potential a UBI policy has in countering racial tropes, it also has its limitations. Net-beneficiaries of UBI might still be resented by those who are net contributors, and so patterns of stigmatization and demonization could survive the change. Changing attitudes, narratives and perceptions would require other systemic changes alongside a UBI to guarantee success on this front (Roberts, 1996). Nonetheless, programs like the Magnolia Mothers Trust in Jackson, Mississippi, that tackle head on taboos around Black motherhood and cash are leading the way in helping shift narrative around deservingness, solidarity and equity (Black & Sprague, 2017).

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Bhattacharya, J. (2019). Exploring Basic Income through a Race and Gender Justice Lens. Roosevelt Institute.

Bidadanure, J. U. (2019). The Political Theory of Universal Basic Income. Annual Review of Political Science, 22(1), 481–501.

Black, R., & Sprague, A. (2017). Becoming Visible. Race, Economic Security, and Political Voice in Jackson, Mississippi. New America, Springboard to Opportunities.

Cammett, A. (2014). Deadbeat Dads & Welfare Queens: How Metaphor Shapes Poverty Law. Boston College Journal of Law and Social Justice, 34(2), 233–265.

Covert, B. (2019). The Myth of the Welfare Queen. The New Republic.

Floyd, I., Burnside, A., & Schott, L. (2018). TANF Reaching Few Poor Families. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Masters, N. T., Lindhorst, T. P., & Meyers, M. K. (2014). Jezebel at the Welfare Office: How Racialized Stereotypes of Poor Women’s Reproductive Decisions and Relationships Shape Policy Implementation. Journal of Poverty, 18(2), 109–129.

Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Moynihan report: The negro family–the case for national action. Cosimo Reports.

Nadasen, P. (2005). Welfare warriors: The welfare rights movement in the United States. Routledge.

Neubeck, K. J., & Cazenave, N. A. (2001). Welfare racism: Playing the race card against America’s poor. Routledge.

Primuth, R. (2016). Ronald Reagan’s Use of Race in the 1976 and 1980 Presidential Elections. Georgia Historical Quarterly, 100(1), 36–66.

Roberts, D. (1996). Welfare and the Problem of Black Citizenship. The Yale Law Journal, 105, 1563–1602.

Robeyns, I. (2001). Will a Basic Income Do Justice to Women? Analyse & Kritik, 23(1), 88–105.

Shelby, T. (2017). A Blow to Ghettoization. Boston Review, 41–46.

Warren, D. (2016). Universal Basic Income and Black Communities in the United States. Working Paper.

Zelleke, A. (2008). Institutionalizing the Universal Caretaker Through a Basic Income? Basic Income Studies, 3(3), 1–9.

This section discusses how UBI could possibly reduce some racial economic inequalities in the United States.

Since the founding of the United States, unequal policies have restricted financial opportunities for many and perpetuated the intergenerational transmission of poverty and racial economic inequality. Federal policies, like the G.I. Bill and the process of “redlining,” helped mostly white Americans obtain college degrees and purchase homes, the bedrock of wealth-creation, while systematically excluding African-Americans (Bhattacharya, 2019; Traub et al., 2017). Black households, instead, had to endure school segregation, limited access to financial institutions and racialized mass incarceration practices. Additionally, they were forced into predatory mortgage agreements, confined to impoverished neighborhoods, and excluded from other essential goods and governmental services (Alexander & West, 2020; Bertocchi & Dimico, 2011; Coates, 2014).

These processes combined with lower wages and income have contributed to large economic inequalities and a glaring wealth gap. Today, in the U.S., the median white family has a net wealth of $171,000, whereas the median Black family has a net wealth of roughly $17,000 (Oliver & Shapiro, 2019). Neither obtaining a college degree nor working full time closes the divide (Traub et al., 2017). The gap is not explained by fiscal irresponsibility either: white households in fact tend to consume more than Black households of the same income (Traub et al., 2017).

This wealth gap is concerning for the injustices it reveals, but also for its consequences. Wealth creates opportunities for individuals and households to invest in education and entrepreneurial ventures, maintain savings, transition between jobs, and handle unforeseen expenses. It also affords choice and self-empowerment, and it gives access to power. The lack of wealth and economic opportunities, conversely, minimizes the chance of upward mobility and economic stability (Hanks et al., 2018). Black households, therefore, are more likely to be ill-equipped for future investments—such as college tuition or a down payment—as well as unanticipated financial shocks such as a medical emergency or layoff. Without transformative policy interventions, it would take at least 200 years to end the Black-white wealth gap in the United States (Hanks et al., 2018).

A single policy cannot counteract economic inequalities grounded in centuries-long oppression, but a UBI could at least ensure that households meet their basic needs and possibly reduce their debt. First, a universal basic income would most benefit those at the bottom of the income distribution, because it would represent a larger proportional boost in a household’s overall income. This includes those who are formally incarcerated who have historically been left out of welfare programs or forced to meet onerous conditions (Bhattacharya, 2019; Warren, 2016). Second, a basic income funded through redistribution could potentially help mitigate some of the effects of discrimination in labor markets, which disproportionately disadvantages Black Americans. Racial prejudice in the employment process—hiring, promoting, compensating—means many Americans of color make only a fraction of what white Americans make: at median income, Black Americans earned 65 percent as much as white Americans in 2016 (Kochhar & Cilluffo, 2018). As a result, those racialized as Black often find themselves disproportionately vulnerable to economic insecurity. Black Americans are about twice as likely to be behind on bill payments as white Americans. Recent evidence from the Magnolia Mother’s Trust experiment in Jackson, Mississippi, showed that within a year, a cash transfer of $1,000 a month allowed 80 percent of participants to pay their bills without additional support, an increase from 37 percent at the start of the experiment (Springboard To Opportunities, 2020).

The implementation of a generous basic income ensures that all Americans, regardless of employment status, can cover basic necessities, especially during periods of precarious employment and income irregularities. But a UBI may also increase the ability of Black households to save, which could then be used to invest in educational or entrepreneurial pursuits. It could enable wealth-building opportunities often impossible on income from labor alone. A progressively funded UBI could then directly address the disparities of income and wealth between Black and white Americans (Warren, 2016). Moreover, since white Americans typically earn more than Black Americans, a larger proportion of their UBI would be taxed back. This is another reason why Black Americans may disproportionately benefit from a UBI even if it is a universal policy (of course, this is only true of UBI programs that are funded at least in part by progressive income taxes). This would essentially amount to a form of reparation that corrects for some of the previous wealth hoarding among white Americans as the result of racially-discriminatory governmental policies (Warren, 2016).

Even more straightforwardly relevant to racial economic injustice, a UBI “Plus” has been proposed as a potential policy to directly address the racial economic disparities brought on by structural racism in the United States (Warren, 2017). The modified version of this idea, Universal PLUS Basic Income (U+BI), parallels most basic income proposals—an unconditional cash transfer provided to everyone on a regular basis. However, U+BI also includes a pro-rated additional amount for Black Americans for a specific time period, potentially funded through a divestment from carceral institutions. This portion of U+BI would function as reparations: it would serve to acknowledge the systemic disadvantages African Americans faced under Jim Crow and slavery and to restitute a group that is worse off as a result (Warren, 2017). U+BI would likely face popular opposition given its explicit emphasis on racial equity and reparations. The additional payment to Black Americans could provoke racial resentment and further perpetuate the existing stigmatization of Black Americans as welfare recipients. This may be a barrier to political feasibility. But, clearly, the U+BI proposal does more directly and frontally address the racial wealth gap than a redistributive UBI program.

While there is great potential for UBI, a basic income policy alone cannot close the racial wealth gap. Critics of UBI have argued that other policies—such as baby bonds, student debt forgiveness, and a federal jobs guarantee, or a mix of those proposals—would better address racial economic inequities (Ackerman & Alstott, 2004; Oliver & Shapiro, 2019). Since UBI focuses largely on stabilizing income (Oliver & Shapiro, 2019), the extent to which it could decrease wealth disparities has yet to be tested and would depend on the specific way the policy is funded, as well as on whether it replaces or supplements other safety net programs. Closing the racial income and wealth gap, in a timely fashion, would also require eliminating workplace discrimination and mass-incarceration as well as implementing reparations.

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Ackerman, B., & Alstott, A. (2004). Why Stakeholding? Politics & Society, 32(1), 41–60.

Alexander, M., & West, C. (2020). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness.

Bertocchi, G., & Dimico, A. (2011). The Evolution of the Racial Gap in Education and the Legacy of Slavery (No. 6192; Discussion Paper Series). Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit Institute for the Study of Labor.

Bhattacharya, J. (2019). Exploring Basic Income through a Race and Gender Justice Lens. Roosevelt Institute.

Coates, T.-N. (2014). The Case for Reparations. The Atlantic.

Hanks, A., Solomon, D., & Weller, C. (2018). Systematic Inequality: How America’s Structural Racism Helped Create the Black-White Wealth Gap (Race and Ethnicity). Center for American Progress.

Kochhar, R., & Cilluffo, A. (2018, July 12). Racial and ethnic income inequality in America: 5 key findings. Pew Research Center: FactTank News in the Numbers.

Oliver, M. L., & Shapiro, T. M. (2019). Disrupting the Racial Wealth Gap. Contexts, 18(1), 16–21.

Springboard To Opportunities. (2020). Magnolia Mother’s Trust, Initial Pilot Report (p. 1). Springboard To Opportunities.

Traub, A., Sullivan, L., Meschede, T., & Shapiro, T. (2017). The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap. Demos.

Warren, D. (2016). Universal Basic Income and Black Communities in the United States. Working Paper.

Warren, D. (2017). Reparations and Basic Income. Boston Review, 56–60.

This section discusses the history of guaranteed income in African American History and how it has evolved today as one of many proposals to actualize economic justice for the Black community in the United States.

The proposal for a guaranteed income in the U.S. was popular in the 1960s, and again very recently, as a potential policy instrument to respond to growing economic racial inequalities across the country. In the history of UBI, many are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s support for the policy, but few realize the diversity and extent of the support for a guaranteed income in African American History.

During the 1960s, the pervasiveness of economic inequality and insecurity in the Black community, coupled with a movement to overhaul an inadequate and exclusionary welfare system, led to the call for a guaranteed annual income (GAI) (Steensland, 2018). In 1966, the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO)—a conglomerate of single Black mothers on welfare, civil rights organizations, and antipoverty groups—was created with the aim of changing the approach to ending poverty (Demby, 2019). Under the anti-poverty programs of the Great Society of the 1960s and 1970s, the elderly, the disabled, and the widowed were deemed worthy of governmental financial assistance, while single mothers and the unemployed poor were blamed for their own poverty. African Americans were often deemed unworthy of assistance and routinely restricted from accessing benefits even when they were eligible (Cammett, 2014; Nadasen, 2005). In order to transform the welfare system, many of the Black women leading the NWRO—including Beulah Sanders, Jennette Washington, and Johnnie Tillmon—pushed for a guaranteed income: an income-support that was unconditional, provided generous levels of benefits, and would be granted to all those in need, including unemployed fathers, the working poor, childless couples, and single individuals (Kornbluh, 2007; Steensland, 2018). By acknowledging unremunerated domestic work and also enabling women to achieve economic independence from their partners, the NWRO’s mission and advocacy for a GAI was aimed at reducing the negative impacts of racially discriminatory welfare practices (Nadasen, 2005).

Between 1966 and 1967, the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement fighting for economic justice for disenfranchised and marginalized Black communities, also advocated for a guaranteed income to replace some of the existing policies aimed at addressing poverty. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Poor People’s Campaign was fueled by the notion that every citizen had a right to a decent standard of life (King, 1967). In 1967, King argued that society needed to create an unconditional guaranteed income program or guaranteed employment to ensure that potential would not be wasted (King, 1967). King argued for an adequately high income—one that reflected the median income and increased over time to reflect economic inflation in order to avoid perpetuating poverty and social and racial inequities (King, 1967). The Black Panther Party also advocated for a guaranteed income, stating in their ambitious Ten-Point Manifesto that the government was required to provide every citizen with employment or a guaranteed income (The Black Panther Party, 1966). The Black Panthers believed that either one of the policies would increase the freedom of Blacks to determine their own destiny.

In the midst of these calls for change and a rise in popularity for a GAI policy, there was also a paradigm shift within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Social workers started promoting a family allowance while economists touted a more ‘innovative’ and ‘efficient’ approach of delivering welfare: a negative income tax (NIT) (Steensland, 2018). In 1967, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York brought together 100 of the nation’s leaders in industry, labor, news media, philanthropic foundations and government to help plan new approaches to public welfare in the United States. Known as the Arden House Conference, this group selected twelve men, primarily representing U.S. private sector corporations, to form an ad hoc steering committee that would author the findings and recommendations from the conference. An income maintenance program in the form of an NIT was subsequently recommended to the U.S. Government’s Committee for Economic Development (Income Maintenance Programs, 1968).

This recommendation and the others from the Arden House Conference ultimately divided support for guaranteed income as a basic right, and in the end, none of the proposals got very far (Steensland, 2018). Already struggling African Americans had no choice but to rely on existing means-tested social programs which continued to link work and welfare including the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Food Stamps, and Medicaid (Stoesz, 1993). The costs of these programs skyrocketed as a strained economy saw an exponential increase of participating families (AFDC more than doubled between 1966 and 1971, from just under five million to more than ten million), and African Americans and poor minority communities were further scapegoated for society’s ills (Stoesz, 1993).

In 1981, the Reagan administration took office with a plan to dramatically cut welfare (Stoesz, 1993). Reagan manufactured the myth of the welfare queen, which was used to demonize Black women as lazy, promiscuous, negligent mothers who free-ride on public assistance and have no self-discipline and work ethic (Covert, 2019; Masters et al., 2014). His administration’s changes to welfare caused many families to become ineligible or to see their benefits slashed because they had found work or were receiving other benefits. In 1983 alone, 408,000 families were cut from the AFDC and 299,000 saw their benefits reduced (Stoesz, 1993). The scale back of welfare during the 1980s and early 1990s was compounded by the lack of tying benefits to inflation, causing the amount of the benefit to be inadequate and ultimately resulting in an even greater widening of the income and asset gap between African Americans and whites (Stoesz, 1993).

In 1996, the Clinton Administration enacted the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, replacing the AFDC. TANF set out new goals for welfare recipients, which could not have been further from King’s proposal for a guaranteed income. Among those included: ending the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; preventing and reducing the incidence of out of wedlock pregnancies and establishing annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and, encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2020). Today, TANF benefits leave families living in poverty well below the poverty line and stigmatized, hindering many from seeking such benefits (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2020).

Recognizing the ongoing social and economic injustices and economic insecurity in Black communities and acknowledging the long history of struggle for a guaranteed income before them, the Movement for Black Lives advocated in 2016 for a guaranteed minimum livable income for all Black Americans as a form of reparations for the continued “divestment from, discrimination towards and exploitation of our communities” (The Movement for Black Lives, 2016). The manifesto goes on to state that the guaranteed livable income would not only meet basic human needs while providing a floor of economic security, but would also serve as a tool for racial emancipation, freedom, and the eradication of poverty in a non-stigmatizing fashion (The Movement for Black Lives, 2016). If a UBI were to be funded progressively, it is also hoped that people of color, because they find themselves disproportionally represented in low-income communities, would benefit most from the policy. In his discussion of UBI, Dorian Warren expressed the hope that the universality of the program would also make it more difficult to exclude formerly incarcerated people who could immensely benefit from income support as they leave prison and suffer labor market discrimination (Warren, 2016).

Parallel to this call for a guaranteed income has been a policy proposal to even more directly address the racial economic disparities brought on by structural racism in the United States: UBI “Plus” (Warren, 2017). The modified version of this idea, Universal PLUS Basic Income (U+BI), parallels most basic income proposals—an unconditional cash transfer provided to everyone on a regular basis—but it also includes a pro-rated additional amount for Black Americans over a specified time period. This portion of U+BI would be more directly reparatory: it would acknowledge and serve as restitution for Jim Crow and slavery (Warren, 2017).

As renewed calls for basic income and guaranteed income come about, it is important to understand this long legacy of support for the policy, its primary motivations, and its connections with curtailing racial oppression through discrimination and stigmatization. Awareness of this rich history of successes and failures can also help pre-empt future injustices. Current basic income experiments, including the Stockton Economic Empowerment Project and Magnolia Mother’s Trust, both draw on this history, placing race at the center. They help inform the ways in which society can better design a policy that leads to greater racial equity and ultimately undermines the negative racial stereotypes engrained in welfare policies (Bhattacharya, 2019).

Related topics

Read more

Bhattacharya, J. (2019). Exploring Basic Income through a Race and Gender Justice Lens. Roosevelt Institute.

Cammett, A. (2014). Deadbeat Dads & Welfare Queens: How Metaphor Shapes Poverty Law. Boston College Journal of Law and Social Justice, 34(2), 233–265.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2020). Policy Basics: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (p. 7). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Covert, B. (2019). The Myth of the Welfare Queen. The New Republic.

Demby, G. (2019, June 9). The Mothers Who Fought To Radically Reimagine Welfare [National Public Radio]. Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed.

King, M. L. (1967). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? (1st ed.). Harper & Row.

Kornbluh, F. A. (2007). The battle for welfare rights: Politics and poverty in modern America. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Masters, N. T., Lindhorst, T. P., & Meyers, M. K. (2014). Jezebel at the Welfare Office: How Racialized Stereotypes of Poor Women’s Reproductive Decisions and Relationships Shape Policy Implementation. Journal of Poverty, 18(2), 109–129.

Nadasen, P. (2005). Welfare warriors: The welfare rights movement in the United States. Routledge.

Steensland, B. (2018). The failed welfare revolution: America’s struggle over guaranteed income policy. Princeton University Press.

Stoesz, D. (1993). Poor Policy: The Legacy of the Kerner Commission for Social Welfare. North Carolina Law Review, 71(5), 1675–1691.

The Black Panther Party. (1966). The Ten-Point Program. The Black Panther Party.

The Movement for Black Lives. (2016). The Movement for Black Lives.

Warren, D. (2016). Universal Basic Income and Black Communities in the United States. Working Paper.

Warren, D. (2017). Reparations and Basic Income. Boston Review, 56–60.


This section discusses the increasingly precarious nature of work and how UBI might address the issue.

Individuals in precarious jobs lack traditional forms of labor security, such as salaried employment and income security (Standing, 2016). In today’s economy, an increasing number of individuals are self-employed, work part-time, or rely on flexible but temporary and insecure jobs in the “gig economy” as their main source of income. The number of workers who engage in alternative forms of work—such as freelancing, temporary help agency, and on-call jobs—rose from 10.7 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015 (Katz & Krueger, 2018). In the United States in 2018, 3 out of 10 adults were engaged in a gig-economy related job or activity; 15 percent were engaged in a service activity (e.g., child care, elder care, driving/ride-sharing, paid online tasks) and 17 percent engaged in a goods activity (e.g., selling online, flea market, consignment store) (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 2020). On average, these ‘alternative workers’ work fewer hours and have lower earnings compared to individuals employed in traditional forms of labor (Katz & Krueger, 2018). Some workers choose these jobs voluntarily —they provide a critical source of flexibility in households with or without care responsibility— and some can be well compensated. In many cases, however, individuals who engage in such alternative forms of work have little choice and would choose a ‘traditional’ and secure job if it were available to them.

The precarious nature of some of these jobs represents a significant mental burden and can increase levels of anxiety and anger (Standing, 2016). Many of these alternative jobs, for instance, do not provide basic health and retirement benefits. Thus, individuals who rely on gig economy jobs as their primary source of income are extremely financially vulnerable if they get sick or hurt (Stern, 2016) and have a higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression (Srnicek & Williams, 2015). Some predict that the phenomenon of job precariousness and insecurity will continue to expand in the future. Specifically, current trends in automation, technological advancement, and the growing sophistication of artificial intelligence could plausibly have a negative effect on the overall quality of jobs available, leading to a decrease in the number of traditional full-time and secure jobs and an increase in the number of precarious and insecure jobs (Ford, 2015; Hughes, 2018).

The introduction of a basic income, in itself, cannot fix the structural problems of today’s labor market, and it is unlikely to have a direct effect on the loss of more secure jobs. But basic income programs could possibly help reduce some of the problems that are associated with these alternative forms of labor. If set sufficiently high, UBI would reduce workers’ dependence on precarious jobs for economic security. In the United States, the poverty line is $12,000 for a single individual and $16,000 for a couple. A UBI of $1,000 a month, then, could go a long way in boosting financial security (a couple would jointly receive $24,000 a year, placing them significantly above the poverty line for couples). This is especially true for workers in alternative jobs, with median weekly earnings of only $500 (Katz & Krueger, 2018).

By empowering workers and increasing workers’ independence, it could also help transform unemployment from a state of insecurity to a state of voluntary flexibility, allowing individuals to choose when and how much to work without imposing on them the financial insecurity that is associated with the gig economy. It could thus increase the number of individuals who voluntarily engage in alternative forms of work and take advantage of the flexibility it can afford. By reducing financial insecurity and instability, UBI has the further potential to reduce the negative mental health outcomes that are associated with the precariousness of the current labor market (Srnicek & Williams, 2015).

Empirical data on how basic income could help reduce workers’ dependence on precarious jobs come primarily from the Madhya Pradesh experiment in India (2011-2012). At the time of the experiment, most individuals worked as casual wage farm laborers (noted as a form of bonded labor for a landlord within the naukar system), while some did their own-account farming and others migrated outside the village to do other labor (Davala et al., 2015). The introduction of basic income was associated with a notable shift away from casual waged labor to own-account work, including own-account farming and small-scale business. In villages receiving basic income, the proportion of individuals reporting own-account farming as their main occupation rose from 40 percent to 62 percent during the tribal village pilot. The share of participants reporting that they were a wage laborer fell from 55 percent to 27 percent. In contrast, the level of self-employment in non-recipient villages actually decreased during this time, from 42 percent to 36 percent, and the percentage of wage laborers increased from 50 to 51 percent.

This shift among recipients of basic income suggests a greater sense of autonomy and independence as well as the flexibility to create more sustainable livelihoods. The move away from wage laborer to own-account farming and small businesses was largely among women, who used the basic income to purchase equipment, livestock, and productive assets (e.g., pumps, pipes, tractors, machine tools, carts and sewing machines) (Davala et al., 2015). Although these findings are notable, it is important to understand that this experiment took place in a context where women were already organized into women’s associations, and so these results may not translate to contexts where such organizational support is lacking. Additional research is needed in the United States and other parts of the world to determine if UBI would cause individuals to leave precarious work and for what other activities, as well as to identify under which conditions the cash injection could boost workers’ bargaining power.

While basic income may reduce the financial insecurity that is often associated with precarious and non-traditional forms of labor, it is limited in its ability to deal with the root causes of job precariousness. UBI does not replace the need for workplace regulations that prevent the labor market from becoming too precarious in the first place. In addition, there are scenarios in which a standalone UBI could even worsen the problem if it played the role of a wage subsidy and was used by employers as an excuse to replace the need for adequate workers’ compensation and health, retirement and other benefits. This suggests that a broader policy package, including perhaps minimum wage regulations, needs to be designed in order to ensure that UBI can play a truly positive role in undermining both job insecurity and economic insecurity.

Related topics

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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. (2020). Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019, Featuring Supplemental Data from April 2020. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Davala, S., Renana Jhabvala, Guy Standing, & Soumya Kapoor Mehta. (2015). Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. Bloomsbury Academic.

Ford, M. (2015). Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (1st ed.). Basic Books.

Hughes, C. (2018). Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn (1st ed.). St. Martin’s Press.

Katz, L. F., & Krueger, A. B. (2018). The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995–2015. ILR Review, 72(2), 382–416.

Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Verso Books.

Standing, G. (2016). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Reprint edition). Bloomsbury Academic.

Stern, A. (2016). Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream (1st ed.). Public Affairs.

This section discusses how UBI might affect bargaining power.

With the decline in the power of workers’ unions — the decrease in the number of workers who are unionized as well as the increase in legal limitations imposed on unions — the current structure of the economy and job market is characterized by an asymmetry of power between workers and employers. The rise of alternative jobs and the gig economy contribute to a growing asymmetry of power, since the decentralized nature of these jobs and the limited contractual obligations of employers in these jobs add additional challenges to collective action. Workers now often find themselves working in low-paying, temporary, or contingent jobs where it is difficult to negotiate the terms of their employment. They also often cannot advance from their current position or find better employment since, under conditions of job insecurity and precariousness, a job search might be very costly. Current safety-net programs also do not provide adequate solutions to this issue of power asymmetry and the lack of workers’ bargaining power. Lacking a strong “exit option,” workers are increasingly dependent on their employers, unable to negotiate better working conditions let alone reject such low-paying or “bad” jobs altogether.

UBI might help challenge the existing power dynamic by better empowering individual workers than existing safety nets. Many observers have pointed to the important correlation between the decline in organized labor and workers’ bargaining power, on the one hand, and the decrease in compensation and increase in job precariousness and insecurity, on the other hand (Rogers, 2017; Stern, 2016). By providing a stable source of income that is independent of work, UBI might offer an alternative route to empower workers: through an increased ability to exit unsatisfactory work contract, it could help workers gain more bargaining power and could help weaken the current asymmetry in power between workers and employers. This is because a sufficiently high UBI could increase individuals’ freedom to enter or exit employment, allowing them the flexibility to manage changing circumstances (obtaining additional education; taking care of dependent children, parents or spouses; or taking advantage of new business opportunities), and increase their capacity to choose, define, and shape the work they want to do (Pateman, 2004; Zelleke, 2014).

By increasing workers’ option set, UBI could thus empower individuals to say “no” to bad, lower-paying, degrading, and hazardous jobs (Reich, 2016; Wright, 2006). But, conversely, it could also increase their ability to say “yes” to more intrinsically rewarding work opportunities, even if those are part-time or on a self-employed basis (Srnicek & Williams, 2015; Stern, 2016; Van Parijs & Vanderborght, 2017). Even if UBI would not provide all individuals with the freedom to say “no” to any job for any length of time, empirical data suggest that it could allow individuals to take longer periods of time between jobs and to spend more time looking for new jobs, thus increasing their ability to say “no” to bad jobs (Hum & Simpson, 1993; Marinescu, 2018).

In Madhya Pradesh, India (2011–2012), the experiment caused a notable shift away from casual waged labor (often cited as bonded labor) to own-account work. To some degree, this had an “emancipatory effect” on low-income households because it allowed them to do more on their own farms or in small-scale informal production, thus strengthening their bargaining position in the market for wage labor (Davala et al., 2015). At the same time, preliminary findings of the Finish basic income pilot (2017–2018) indicated that there was a slightly greater number of individuals earning income from self-employment among those receiving a basic income (2,000 individuals) than those in the treatment (175,000 individuals) group (43.75 percent and 42.85 percent, respectively) (Kangas et al., 2019). Additional research is needed, though, to understand whether the increase in self-employment among basic income recipients was because they felt empowered to do more rewarding work. Overall, more research is needed to answer the difficult question of whether, how and in which context UBI could help increase a worker’s bargaining power.

Despite giving workers basic exit options, however, skeptics have suggested that UBI is not a realistic avenue to workers’ emancipation from the authoritarian power of their bosses. UBI does not directly lessen an employer’s legal prerogatives, nor does it give workers additional power within their firm’s structure (Gourevitch, 2016). Additionally, while UBI might increase individual bargaining power, it does not necessarily help empower the working class collectively. This is significant, because without an organized working class, it is hard to envision a world in which the business class would agree to a UBI large enough to allow for deep transformations of the labor market in workers’ favor (Gourevitch & Stanczyk, 2018). So those analysts make the case, not that UBI would not help reduce the problem if it were introduced, but that it is unlikely to be politically feasible in a context of disorganized labor. They further express concern that a focus on UBI policy could deprioritize strategies and policies that help organize labor (Gourevitch & Stanczyk, 2018).

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Davala, S., Renana Jhabvala, Guy Standing, & Soumya Kapoor Mehta. (2015). Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. Bloomsbury Academic.

Gourevitch, A. (2016). The Limits of a Basic Income: Means and Ends of Workplace Democracy. Basic Income Studies, 11(1), 17–28.

Gourevitch, A., & Stanczyk, L. (2018). The Basic Income Illusion. Catalyst, 1(4), 22.

Hum, D., & Simpson, W. (1993). Economic Response to a Guaranteed Annual Income: Experience from Canada and the United States. Journal of Labor Economics, 11(1, Part 2), S263–S296.

Kangas, O., Jauhiainen, S., Simanainen, M., & Ylikännö, M. (2019). The basic income experiment 2017–2018 in Finland Preliminary results. 34.

Marinescu, I. (2018). No strings attached: The behavioral effects of U.S. unconditional cash transfer programs (Working Paper No. 24337). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

Reich, R. B. (2016). Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (1st ed.). Vintage Books, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Rogers, B. (2017, May 3). Basic Income in a Just Society. Boston Review, 11–29.

Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Verso Books.

Stern, A. (2016). Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream (1st ed.). PublicAffairs.

Van Parijs, P., & Vanderborght, Y. (2017). Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (1st ed.). Harvard University Press.

Wright, E. O. (2006). Two redistributive proposals—Universal basic income and stakeholder grants. Focus, 24(2), 5–7.

Zelleke, A. (2014, January 27). The Liberal Case for a Basic Income. Basic Income Earth Network.

This section discusses how UBI might enable individuals to choose activities beyond formal jobs and wage labor.

Our societies tend to treat waged labor as the principal form of valued activity, which often leads us to view activities beyond jobs as unproductive or unworthy. Despite being essential and meaningful, other forms of work such as caregiving and community work are often undervalued and underpaid; individuals who engage in such activities are more likely to face financial insecurity and lack financial independence. The prioritization of formal labor also comes at the expense of volunteer and community work. Given the prevalence of formal labor in our day-to-day lives, most individuals simply do not have the time to engage in such activities. The current structure of the labor market and the social norms attached to it tend to generate a very limited conception of what is considered “valuable” or “productive” human activity.

UBI has the potential to indirectly contribute to a broadening of what counts as productive work. Contrary to most existing income support programs, UBI would provide each individual with a basic income regardless of employment, and so it would increase financial security among unwaged caregivers and reduce their current financial dependence on working spouses (Robeyns, 2001; Standing, 2012). Furthermore, if set sufficiently high to cover basic needs, UBI would empower individuals to make their own choices, such as spending more time taking care of a sick child or aging parent. Such a high UBI could also alter a rigid gendered division into full-time caregivers and full-time employees by allowing a greater number of individuals to engage in both activities part-time (Fraser, 1997). UBI could transform the labor market by allowing people to shift from seeing jobs as a mere means of acquiring money to seeing them as a way to express personal engagement, interest, and commitment (Reich, 2016). UBI could potentially allow individuals to choose the lifestyle they want for themselves and their families, and to engage in a wider range of activities such as art, volunteering, community gardens and eco-villages, participating in after school classes, and joining community or neighborhood associations and other cultural projects (Fraser, 1997). Importantly, this is only plausible with a UBI set sufficiently high to cover basic needs.

Empirical evidence from the U.S. and Canada’s negative income tax experiments in the 1970s indicate a reduction in work hours, though not a complete withdrawal from the labor market, specifically among women (single or married). In the Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment (SIME/DIME), two-parent households receiving the negative income tax saw a reduction in wives’ workload between zero and 27 percent and single-mothers between 15 and 30 percent (Widerquist, 2005). Similar effects were found in Canada’s Mincome experiment, where there was an 11.3 percentage point reduction in labor market participation (Calnitsky & Latner, 2017). However, in the case of Mincome, qualitative evidence showed that many of these young single women cited care work, disability and illness, uneven employment opportunities, or educational investment as reasons for the reduction (Calnitsky & Latner, 2017). This evidence may point to UBI’s potential to increase forms of informal labor at the expense of traditional, formal labor. It is less clear what the impact would be on the gendered division of care work.

Some argue, however, that if the UBI is set too low, it might risk leaving informal laborers in relative poverty compared to those in the formal market. Even a sufficiently high UBI would not equalize the earnings of these two groups, nor would it necessarily offer a fair compensation for those who are engaged in informal activities such as caregiving and community work. Moreover, since social norms are a major element in explaining what kind of activities we find meaningful, it is not clear that UBI would be sufficient to encourage people to engage in informal labor.

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Barnes, P. (2014). With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough (First Edition). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Calnitsky, D., & Latner, J. P. (2017). Basic Income in a Small Town: Understanding the Elusive Effects on Work. Social Problems, 64(3), 456–456.

Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the “postsocialist” condition. Routledge.

Pateman, C. (2004). Democratizing Citizenship: Some Advantages of a Basic Income. Politics & Society, 32(1), 89–105.

Reich, R. B. (2016). Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (1st ed.). Vintage Books, a Division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Robeyns, I. (2001). Will a Basic Income Do Justice to Women? Analyse & Kritik, 23(1), 88–105.

Standing, G. (2012). Why a Basic Income Is Necessary for a Right to Work. Basic Income Studies, 7(2), 19–40.

Stern, A. (2016). Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream (1st ed.). PublicAffairs.

Van Parijs, P., & Vanderborght, Y. (2017). Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (1st ed.). Harvard University Press.

Widerquist, K. (2005). A failure to communicate: What (if anything) can we learn from the negative income tax experiments? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 34(1), 49–81.

Zelleke, A. (2008). Institutionalizing the Universal Caretaker Through a Basic Income? Basic Income Studies, 3(3), 1–9.

This section is about how UBI might help tackle unemployment traps and mitigate other issues relating to unemployment.

Unemployment is a major social concern for policymakers and activists alike. It is associated with lower economic growth rates, a loss in human capital, higher levels of social unrest, and various individual and social effects, such as depression and other adverse physical and mental health outcomes (Renahy et al., 2018). The economic impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic alone caused the percentage of persons jobless 15 to 26 weeks to increase from 11.1 percent in March 2020 to 39.4 percent in July 2020 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). While UBI, in itself, is not expected to reduce unemployment rates, it may reduce the poverty and economic insecurity that typically enfolds (Lewis, 2012).

Two pervasive problems tend to stump policymakers: the unemployment trap and low take-up rates of unemployment benefits. The unemployment trap occurs when unemployed individuals face low or negative incentives to return to the labor market due to a potential loss of benefits and overall decrease in net income (Clark & Kavanagh, 1996). This problem has been pervasive in particular in some European countries with reasonably generous out of work benefits designed in such a way that an unemployed individual is assured to lose all their benefits when they accept employment. That threat makes unemployed individuals are more likely to remain unemployed for longer. UBI is expected to help mitigate this problem. Since it does not involve means-testing and is independent of one’s level of work, individuals can attempt to return to the labor force without fear of losing existing benefits. The basic income experiment in Finland between 2017–2018 essentially tried to capture this potential impact of conditional unemployment benefits vs. a basic income. Additional research and empirical data from the final report (expected in 2020) will hopefully shed some light onto UBI’s ability to reduce unemployment traps.

UBI might also be an effective solution to the problems associated with low take-up rates of unemployment benefits. Stigma, institutional barriers, and lack of information all contribute to the fact that many individuals who are eligible for benefits do not claim or receive them (Currie, 2004). This phenomenon has led many to question the effectiveness and desirability of targeted and means-tested programs. The universal and unconditional nature of UBI can be expected to increase take-up rates, since it would reduce the stigma associated with existing benefits and reduce institutional barriers and lack of information (Van Parijs & Vanderborght, 2017). Thus, it might reduce the poverty and financial insecurity that are associated with unemployment.

Other policies, such as a Job Guarantee, might prove more effective in dealing with the problem of unemployment than UBI. Advocates of a Job Guarantee argue that it would provide the benefits of a UBI at a significantly lower cost and with less destabilizing macroeconomic effects, and that it would also increase overall happiness by providing every individual with access to decent and stable jobs (Harvey, 2012; Tcherneva, 2012). The ability to offer a Guaranteed Job, though, might be undermined by technological developments. Computers and robots might significantly reduce the need for human labor over the next 20–30 years, thus causing a significant increase in unemployment (Walker, 2016). And unlike previous technological disruptions, there are reasons to believe that the current wave of automation will not result in a full recovery of the labor market (Ford, 2015). In a world with fewer available jobs, a Job Guarantee might prove overmatched. In this case, while UBI might not solve the problem of unemployment, it might nonetheless offer to stabilize income across communities (Sandbu, 2017).

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Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). The Employment Situation- July 2020. U.S. Department of Labor.

Clark, C. M. A., & Kavanagh, C. (1996). Basic Income, Inequality, and Unemployment: Rethinking the Linkage between Work and Welfare. Journal of Economic Issues, 30(2), 399–406.

Currie, J. (2004). The Take Up of Social Benefits (No. w10488). Institute for the Study of Labor.

Ford, M. (2015). Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (1st ed.). Basic Books.

Harvey, P. (2012). More for Less: The Job Guarantee Strategy. Basic Income Studies, 7(2).

Lewis, M. (2012). Cost, Compensation, Freedom, and the Basic Income – Guaranteed Jobs Debate. In Basic Income Studies (Vol. 7, pp. 41–51). De Gruyter.

Renahy, E., Mitchell, C., Molnar, A., Muntaner, C., Ng, E., Ali, F., & O’Campo, P. (2018). Connections between unemployment insurance, poverty and health: A systematic review. European Journal of Public Health, 28(2), 269–275.

Sandbu, M. (2017, April 6). Money can buy you work. Financial Times.

Tcherneva, P. R. (2012). The Job Guarantee: Delivering the Benefits That Basic Income Only Promises – A Response to Guy Standing. Basic Income Studies, 7(2).

Van Parijs, P., & Vanderborght, Y. (2017). Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (1st ed.). Harvard University Press.

Walker, M. (2016). Free Money for All: A Basic Income Guarantee Solution for the Twenty-First Century. Springer.


This section discusses the potential threats posed by automation to the future of work and how UBI might address some of these challenges.

In recent years, there have been growing concerns about the potential societal effects of automation and artificial intelligence (AI)—especially the threat of unprecedented job displacement and large-scale unemployment. A recent poll, for example, suggests that most adults (73 percent) think that “an increased use of AI will eliminate more jobs than it creates,” a worry that is especially high among younger respondents (78 percent for individuals between the ages of 18 to 35) and among workers holding blue-collar jobs (82 percent) (Gallup andNortheastern University, 2018).If we value democracy because of its association with good governance, we may ask what impact UBI would have on the ability of democracies to govern well. Evidence from cash transfers offers insights on accountability and legitimacy—the two values thought necessary for good governance.

UBI appears to be an attractive solution to this threat. In fact, automation is the most frequently cited topic connected to the discussion of UBI, and in the same Northeastern and Gallup poll, 48 percent of respondents support a basic income for individuals who lose their jobs as a result of automation. Among supporters of UBI, 80 percent agree with the idea of taxing businesses to fund it. More specifically, they agree with the statement that companies who benefit from the adoption of AI should pay for a UBI for those displaced by this economic shift (Gallup andNortheastern University, 2018).

At the same time, there is wide disagreement about the seriousness of the threat posed by current developments in automation and artificial intelligence. Among the many potential future scenarios, three can be considered: (1) large-scale and long-term unemployment; (2) short-term unemployment and long-term recovery of the labor market; (3) large changes to the labor market in unpredictable and unprecedented ways. Depending on the scenario we privilege, a universal basic income may appear unequally pertinent, with different advantages and limitations.

According to the first scenario, current trends in automation and developments in artificial intelligence are likely to result in massive job loss and in large-scale and long-term unemployment. Some estimate that anywhere between 47 and 80 percent of current jobs could be automated in the next two decades (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017; Slaughter et al., 2017; Srnicek & Williams, 2015). If this estimate is plausible, there is indeed very serious grounds to fear unprecedented job loss and workers’ displacement (Ford, 2015; Stern, 2016). UBI might then appear to be an efficient—and even necessary—policy to provide a safety net for workers who would lose their jobs, either while they attempt to find a new one and retrain, or as a permanent replacement for their salary in case there are no new jobs available. If funded through some of the wealth produced by automation, UBI would further enable communities to harness some of the profits of automation to keep a stable and generous income floor across society under conditions of large technological unemployment (Sandbu, 2017; Walker, 2016). UBI could further enable individuals to engage in productive activities beyond paid labor (including caregiving and volunteering, but also starting a business project of one’s own) which would be especially valuable in an economy where formal jobs become scarce. Importantly though, UBI would not provide a solution for technological unemployment itself. It would rather allow political communities to mitigate some of its negative effects. Since employment is an important part of human life and can deliver goods beyond money, such as the ability to make a social contribution, feel part of a community, achieve excellence and social recognition (Gheaus & Herzog, 2016; Hughes, 2018), it is implausible to think that UBI can fully compensate individuals for the loss of a job.

According to the second scenario, while automation and AI are likely to contribute to some level of short-term unemployment, the economy will eventually adapt, and the labor market will recover. There is historical evidence in support of this scenario. While every major technological change throughout history resulted in job loss and workers’ displacement, the long-term demand for labor remained constant or even increased over time (Ford, 2015; Stern, 2016). In this case, we should anticipate large disruptions in the short-term, and overall stabilization in the long-term. If the current wave of technological changes indeed resulted only in short-term job loss, it might still take time for the economy to adapt to these changes, and many individuals and communities will find themselves on the losing end of those changes (since 2000, automation has already contributed to the elimination of millions of manufacturing jobs in the United States). In this case, UBI may prove a critical means to smooth the transition (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017; Walker, 2016). Workers and communities who stand to lose need to have access to a more generous, robust and less bureaucratic safety net than currently available. A UBI would ensure that those communities aren’t left behind entirely. Moreover, a UBI for all could lead to a reduction of working hours among those who still have a job, which could then free up positions for those out of work, thus facilitating job-sharing. It is important to note, however, that a fully universal basic income may not be needed in this second scenario. A targeted basic income specifically for those who lose their jobs could be a suitable solution, as long as it is delivered efficiently, and that access is maximized.

Finally, according to the third scenario, automation and AI will result in large changes in the labor market that would cause unprecedented transformation. For example, even if automation does not cause massive unemployment, it might lead to an increase in the number of individuals who rely on the “gig economy” as their main source of income. In the least optimistic versions of this scenario, more and more individuals would have to rely on temporary, precarious, and insecure jobs in order to piece together their income and benefits (Slaughter et al., 2017). The range of jobs and activities that will be potentially impacted by automation and AI is quite wide. Some estimates suggest that about 60 percent of all occupations include at least 30 percent of activities that are likely to be automated (McKinsey Global Institute, 2017). The universal and unconditional nature of UBI allows for a better preparation for such wide and uncertain effects and could enhance existing safety net programs to accommodate individuals who are affected by these changes, whether unemployed or not (Bidadanure, 2019). UBI offers a more adequate answer to the large-scale precariousness and insecurity that are associated with these changes, many of which we are already seen today (Srnicek & Williams, 2015; Standing, 2012).

UBI thus seems pertinent in a range of likely scenarios related to the future of work. But UBI is no panacea either and it cannot fix alone all that is lost when workers lose their jobs. Some also argue that the current debate around the threats of automation may not be a necessary part of the case for UBI. Today, the United States is already seeing a significant trend of economic dislocation and wealth concentration, which may be sufficient to justify UBI as a redistributive measure even without the hypothetical threat to future jobs (Hughes, 2018). Furthermore, the current focus on the threats of automation may distract policymakers from the various other reasons we already have to support UBI, such as the need for efficient and respectful poverty alleviation and for more adequate compensation of caregivers (Ruben, 2017).

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Bidadanure, Juliana. 2020. “The Political Theory of Universal Basic Income,” Annual Review of Economics. Vol 22 (March 2019): 481-501.

Ford, Martin. 2015. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. New York: Basic Books

Gheaus, Anca and Lisa Herzog. 2016. “The Goods of Work (Other Than Money!),” Journal of Social Philosophy. Vol 47, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 70-89.

Harvey, Philip. 2013. More for Less: The Job Guarantee Strategy,” Basic Income Studies 7(2): 3-18.

Hughes, Chris. 2018. Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn. New York: St. Martin’s Books.

McKinsey Global Institute. 2017. “A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity”

Metz, Cade. 2015. “Why WhatsApp Only Needs 50 Engineers for its 900M users.” Wired Magazine09/15/15.

Northeastern University & Gallup. 2018. “Optimism and Anxiety: Views on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Higher Education Response”

Reich, Robert B. 2016. Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. New York: Vintage Books.

Rogers, Brishen. 2018. “Basic Income in a Just Society”, Boston Review (online), 1/31/2018.

Ruben, Adam. 2017. “What Does the Debate on Automation Mean for Basic Income.” Economic Security Project, 3/24/2017.

Sandbu, Martin. “Money Can Buy You Work,” Financial Times (2017)

Shift: The Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology. 2017. Report of Finding.

Srnicek, Nick and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London and New York: Verso Books, 2015.

Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury.

Stern, Andy. Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

Tcherneva, Pavlina R. 2013. “The Job Guarantee: Delivering the Benefits That Basic Income Only Promises – A Response to Guy Standing,” Basic Income Studies 7 (2): 66-87.

Yang, Andrew. 2018. The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future. New York: Hachette Books.

Walker, Mark. Free Money for All. A Basic Income Guarantee Solution for the Twenty-First Century. Palgrave Macmillan (2016).


This section discusses the possible effects UBI could have on some of social determinants that contribute to mental health outcomes.

Mental health disorders have become increasingly common in the United States. In 2017, nearly one in five adults aged 18 or older (or 18.9 percent of all adults) were living with a mental illness. Of those individuals, 4.5 percent had a serious mental illness with greater prevalence among women and young adults under 25 (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). Mental health problems and disorders are complex outcomes, shaped by biological and psychological factors and by the social, economic, and physical environments in which people live (Lund, 2018). Communities facing stark social inequalities, financial strain, limited education, unemployment, and adverse neighborhood characteristics are associated with an increased risk of developing a variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance use disorder (Allen et al., 2014; Silva et al., 2016).

Mental health disorders have wide-ranging social, economic and health consequences for individuals and families as well as local and larger communities. The social and economic costs of mental illness, both direct (medication, clinic visits, or hospitalization) and indirect (reduced labor supply, public income support payments, reduced educational attainment, or costs associated with homelessness and incarceration) (Insel, 2008) are shared widely and have lasting and profound effects. On a macro level, serious mental disorders cost the United States an estimated $200 billion in lost earnings per year (Insel, 2008); and, in 2013, the United States spent $71 billion to treat depressive disorders—the most costly among mental health and substance abuse disorders (Dieleman et al., 2016) . In 2017, the City of San Francisco was spending an estimated $370 million a year providing behavioral health services to more than 30,000 individuals (Tipping Point Community and University of California, San Francisco, 2019).

Addressing, managing, and reducing mental health disorders would necessarily require a multi-pronged approach. It would be a mistake to think that a cash program alone could resolve such a profound issue. But UBI can, nonetheless, help improve mental health and reduce the risk of mental health disorders by improving an individual’s financial security and mobility.

First, a generous UBI program could reduce economic insecurity, thereby decreasing stress (Ruckert et al., 2018). Economic insecurity is increasingly cited as one of the key socioeconomic determinants of mental health (Allen et al., 2014; Kopasker et al., 2018; Lund, 2018). The basic income experiment in Finland (2017–2018), albeit brief, showed signs of stress reduction among participants relative to non-participants: 54.8 percent of participants reported little to no stress relative to 45.6 percent of non-basic income recipients (Kangas et al., 2019).

Results from negative income tax experiments, dividends, and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) also highlight the positive effects of increased economic security on self-esteem, stress, anxiety and worry. The Mincome experiment in Manitoba, Canada, in the late 1970s showed an 8.5 percent decline in hospitalization rates largely due to a decline in mental health issues related to alcohol consumption (Forget, 2011, 2013). More recent qualitative data from the prematurely cancelled Ontario Basic Income Pilot indicated reductions in posttraumatic stress and chronic health problems (Forget, 2019).

Other regularly dispersed unconditional cash transfer programs have also improved mental health. A longitudinal study on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians examined the psychiatric outcomes following the opening of a casino and bi-yearly income payments; it found that those families who were poor before the casino and came out of poverty after it opened had a notable reduction in children’s psychiatric disorders (symptoms of conduct and oppositional defiant disorders) (Costello et al., 2003).

Research from low- and middle-income countries also points to the positive impact of unconditional cash on mental health. In the pilot implemented by the NGO Give Directly in Western Kenya between 2011 and 2012, the cash transfer contributed to increases in happiness and life satisfaction as well as a reduction in stress. In the same pilot, large single lump-sum transfers (rather than regular monthly transfers) led to a reduction in levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Women also experienced a greater “reduction in worries and increase in self-esteem” relative to men, when receiving the transfer (Haushofer et al., 2016). Finally, a UCT Program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Kenya showed a reduction in depressive symptoms by 24 percent among young persons living in households that received cash transfers, relative to those who did not (Kilburn et al., 2016).

Moreover, unlike conditional cash transfer programs or traditional welfare programs, the unconditional feature of a UBI policy could also have important effects on individuals’ mental health. When recipients know that they will receive the cash without having to meet any conditions—and that they are able to choose what they want to do with it—UBI may reduce anxiety and stress (Mah, 2017). For instance, the recipients of the Canadian unconditional income grant for senior citizens (Old Age Supplement, or OAS) self-reported better mental health outcomes than the recipients of conditional Canadian assistance programs (McIntyre et al., 2016). Data indicated that the stringent eligibility criteria of some of the current income assistance programs in Canada often left individuals dependent on these programs feeling stressed, marginalized, disempowered and hopeless. In contrast, low-income seniors who received the OAS faced less administrative restrictions (McIntyre et al., 2016).

A cash transfer experiment in Malawi also found that schoolgirls who received an unconditional cash transfer were approximately 14 percentage points less likely to be suffering from psychological distress relative to the control group. Schoolgirls receiving the cash transfer conditional on regular school attendance, however, only had a 6-percentage point decline in psychological distress (Baird et al., 2013). The data suggests that the higher level of psychological distress among girls with the school attendance conditionality may be attributed to the burden of meeting the conditions (Baird et al., 2013).

UBI may also indirectly impact wellbeing by reducing workers’ dependence on insecure or low-wage jobs. Precariousness represents a significant mental burden and can increase levels of anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation (Standing, 2016) . Over the last few decades in the United States, the rise of the gig economy, the outsourcing of jobs, and the decline in real wage earnings have been shown to contribute to outcomes associated with negative mental wellness, including an increase in alcoholic liver disease, drug poisoning, and suicide among less educated (high school or less) white Americans (Case & Deaton, 2020) . In the United Kingdom, males facing work-related insecurity (or the threat of workplace insecurity) often had the highest rate of mental health related illnesses (Kopasker et al., 2018). A UBI would only have a limited impact in reducing the occupational insecurities associated with outsourcing or the gig economy, but if it were to help transform precocity and unemployment from a state of insecurity to a state of voluntary flexibility, then it could plausibly also improve mental health (Srnicek et al., 2015).

Where one lives is also a critical social determinant of mental health. Those who live in adverse neighborhoods with higher levels of violence and crime, stark social inequalities, and fewer employment and educational opportunities have less community connectedness and greater social isolation, contributing to an increase in mental health issues (Silva et al., 2016). A UBI could possibly give people increased access to housing in neighborhoods with higher quality community services and community participation. Results from the U.S.-run Gary Maintenance Income Experiment between 1971 and 1974 showed that those receiving the income transfer tended to move to neighborhoods with better housing and health providers, thereby reducing the risks to mental health outlined above (Ruckert et al., 2018). That said, it is difficult to infer that the data from the income experiments would necessarily contribute to that type of mobility under a UBI, given that all households would be receiving the same income. Additional research designs are needed to determine the effects of universal programs on communities as a whole.

Finally, the payment frequency of a UBI may impact mental health outcomes. While the pathways are complex, research has shown that when some individuals with mental health disorders are already highly indebted, they have a propensity for manic, nihilistic, social value, comfort, impulsive, and addictive spending (Holkar et al., 2016). If a UBI payment were to be more regular and predictable (as opposed to irregular large cash payments or a single lump sum) it may contribute to a reduction in poor outcomes and financial stress, and therefore improved mental health. Evidence from a cousin of basic income (Chicago Earned Income Tax Credit periodic payment pilot) has shown that regular, predictable payments contributed to a reduction of financial stress and an increase in overall wellbeing (Kramer et al., 2019) . Additional research is needed, though, to fully understand how, if at all, the frequency of a UBI would impact mental wellbeing and what wrap-around services, if any, would need to accompany the transfer.

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Allen, J., Marmot, M., World Health Organization, & Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. (2014). Social determinants of mental health.

Baird, S., Hoop, J. de, & Özler, B. (2013). Income Shocks and Adolescent Mental Health. Journal of Human Resources, 48(2), 370–403.

Case, A., & Deaton, A. (2020). Deaths of despair and the future of capitalism. Princeton University Press.

Costello, E. J., Compton, S. N., Keeler, G., & Angold, A. (2003). Relationships Between Poverty and Psychopathology: A Natural Experiment. JAMA, 290(15), 2023–2029.

Dieleman, J. L., Baral, R., Birger, M., Bui, A. L., Bulchis, A., Chapin, A., Hamavid, H., Horst, C., Johnson, E. K., Joseph, J., Lavado, R., Lomsadze, L., Reynolds, A., Squires, E., Campbell, M., DeCenso, B., Dicker, D., Flaxman, A. D., Gabert, R., … Murray, C. J. L. (2016). US Spending on Personal Health Care and Public Health, 1996-2013. JAMA, 316(24), 2627–2646.

Forget, E. L. (2011). The Town with No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Forget, E. L. (2013). New questions, new data, old interventions: The health effects of a guaranteed annual income. Preventive Medicine, 57(6), 925–928.

Forget, E. L. (2019, May 21). The Basic Income Path to a Healthier Society. Stanford Basic Income Lab, Stanford University.

Haushofer, J., & Shapiro, J. (2016). The Short-term Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers to the Poor: Experimental Evidence from Kenya. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(4), 1973–2042.

Holkar, M., & Mackenzie, P. (2016). Money on your mind. Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

Insel, T. R. (2008). Assessing the Economic Costs of Serious Mental Illness. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(6), 663–665.

Kangas, O., Jauhiainen, S., Simanainen, M., & Ylikännö, M. (2019). The basic income experiment 2017–2018 in Finland Preliminary results. 34.

Kilburn, K., Thirumurthy, H., Halpern, C. T., Pettifor, A., & Handa, S. (2016). Effects of a large-scale unconditional cash transfer program on mental health outcomes of young people in Kenya. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 58(2), 223–229.

Kopasker, D., Montagna, C., & Bender, K. A. (2018). Economic insecurity: A socioeconomic determinant of mental health. SSM - Population Health, 6, 184–194.

Kramer, K. Z., Andrade, F. C. D., Greenlee, A. J., Mendenhall, R., Bellisle, D., & Lemons Blanks, R. (2019). Periodic Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Payment, Financial Stress and Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 40(3), 511–523.

Lund, C. (2018). Social determinants of mental disorders and the Sustainable Development Goals: A systematic review of reviews. 5, 13.

Mah, S. (2017, October 12). Is Basic Income the next big population health intervention? [Basic Income Earth Network].

McIntyre, L., Kwok, C., Emery, J. C. H., & Dutton, D. J. (2016). Impact of a guaranteed annual income program on Canadian seniors’ physical, mental and functional health. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 107(2), e176–e182.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, February). Mental Ilness. Mental Health Information.

Ruckert, A., Huynh, C., & Labonté, R. (2018). Reducing health inequities: Is universal basic income the way forward? Journal of Public Health, 40(1), 3–7.

Silva, M., Loureiro, A., & Cardoso, G. (2016). Social determinants of mental health: A review of the evidence. The European Journal of Psychiatry, 30(4), 259–292.

Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Verso Books.

Standing, G. (2016). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Reprint edition). Bloomsbury Academic.

Tipping Point Community, & University of California, San Francisco. (2019). Behavioral Health and Homelessness in San Francisco: Needs and Opportunities.

This section discusses how UBI could potentially increase access to health care services, therefore contributing to healthier communities.

Access to health care services is central to promoting and maintaining one’s health, preventing and managing illness and disease, reducing unnecessary disability and premature death, and achieving health equity (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, n.d.). Research has shown that access to care (inclusive of dental care) varies by race and ethnicity, income, age, gender, geographic or residential location, and sexual orientation (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2018; Chattopadhyay, 2008). Barriers in access to health services—including high cost of care, inadequate or no insurance coverage, lack of availability of services, or lack of culturally competent care—often contribute to variation across these different groups.

Many of the social determinants of health intersect with these barriers (Bhatt et al., 2018). In 2015, 23.4 percent of adults (18–64 years) living in poverty or just above the poverty line in the United States cited cost as the top reason for not obtaining needed medical care at least once during the last 12 months (Martinez & Ward, 2016) . Those living in poverty face economic insecurity and therefore have limited capacity to pay out-of-pocket health care costs (Lauren Frohlich et al., 2015). Moreover, despite the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that mandated medical insurance for all in the United States, in 2017, over 10 percent of adults had no medical insurance. In that same year, 61.6 percent had prescriptive drug insurance, and only 54.5 percent had dental insurance (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, n.d.). Access to health care services is also complicated by where one lives and the availability of services. In rural parts of the United States, where poverty is the greatest, there are 40 physicians per 100,000 persons compared to nearly 54 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas (Hostetter et al., 2017).

Acknowledging the complexity of health care insurance markets and the variation in quality health care services available, an increase in an individual’s income could plausibly have an impact on access to health care services. While more research is needed to understand whether and how UBI could boost access to healthcare, especially in the United States, UBI could improve access to preventative health care services thus reducing the incidence of disease and more expensive health care services (Ruckert et al., 2018).

India and Namibia’s basic income experiments both contributed to increased access to health care services. In the Madhya Pradesh experiment, the basic income led to an increase in private health care use (from 50 percent to 65 percent) because of geographic proximity to the village and because the quality of the care was perceived to be better. These rates of use were sustained well after the experiment (Davala et al., 2017). In Namibia, prior to the experiment, poverty prevented many in Otijivero-Omitara from seeking services. During the experiment, though, expenditures at the local health clinic increased by an average of five times each month than what was normally spent without the additional income (Haarmann et al., 2009). Finally, even in countries where universal healthcare is publicly funded, a basic income would give individuals an opportunity to access more specialized care beyond the health services and medications available to them under universal healthcare.

A UBI could also possibly guarantee more equitable access to drugs in countries where no public or private drug insurance plans are available (Ruckert et al., 2018). In the United States, given the exponential rise in cost of lifesaving drugs, access to appropriate medication is increasingly difficult to afford (Kesselheim et al., 2016). As such, a universal income could reduce some of the barriers to accessing necessary medicines and make access to medicine more equitable (Ruckert et al., 2018). In the Namibia basic income experiment, there was an increase in antiretroviral (ARV) treatment among patients with HIV (from 3 to 36 individuals). While this increase is notable, it is important to acknowledge that during the experiment, the government was also implementing an ARV rollout. As a result, it is difficult to attribute this increase in use of lifesaving drugs to the basic income intervention itself. Additional research and data are needed to determine what sort of impact a basic income could have on access to medicine.

Finally, a UBI may increase one’s access to dental health services and therefore reduce the risk factors associated with oral diseases and other chronic diseases (Chen et al., 2018). While many developed countries provide universal healthcare, universal coverage of dental health care schemes is rare; Austria, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom, for example, do not offer universal dental health care. Moreover, it is often the case that countries who do cover dental services often neglect critical services (Biggs, 2012) . Many of the risk factors associated with chronic diseases are also applicable for oral diseases, such as diet and hygiene, smoking, alcohol, risky behaviors causing injuries, and stress (Sheiham, 2005). A UBI could reduce the aforementioned risk factors through improving an individual’s income security, thus allowing them to have more time and resources to access both mitigative and responsive oral health care services (Chen et al., 2018).

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Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2018). Access and Disparities in Access to Health Care. Department of Health and Human Services.

Bhatt, J., & Bathija, P. (2018). Ensuring Access to Quality Health Care in Vulnerable Communities: Academic Medicine, 93(9), 1271–1275.

Biggs, A. (2012). Dental Reform: An Overview of Universal Dental Schemes (Social Policy Section, p. 13) [Background Note]. Parliament of Australia, Department of Parliamentary Services.

Chattopadhyay, A. (2008). Oral Health Disparities in the United States. Dental Clinics of North America, 52(2), 297–318.

Chen, Y.-A., & Quiñonez, C. (2018). Basic income guarantee: A review of implications for oral health. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 78(1), 56–62.

Davala, S., Jhabvala, R., Standing, G., & Badgaiyan, N. (2017). Piloting Basic Income A Legacy Study Final Report (p. 52). SEWA Bharat and INBI.

Haarmann, C., Haarmann, D., Jauch, H., Shindondola-Mote, H., Nattrass, N., van Niekerk, I., & Samson, M. (2009). Making the difference! The BIG in Namibia. Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Hostetter, M., & Klein, S. (2017). In Focus: Reimagining Rural Health Care (Transforming Care: Reporting Health System Improvement). The Commonwealth Fund.

Kesselheim, A. S., Avorn, J., & Sarpatwari, A. (2016). The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States: Origins and Prospects for Reform. JAMA, 316(8), 858–871.

Lauren Frohlich, Susan Hauan, Kendall Swenson, Sharon Wolf, & Suzanne Macartney. (2015). Financial Condition and Health Care Burdens of People in Deep Poverty. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Martinez, M., & Ward, B. (2016). Health Care Access and Utilization Among Adults Aged 18–64, by Poverty Level: United States, 2013–2015 (p. 8) [262]. National Center for Health Statistics.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Access to Health Services. Healthypeople.Gov. Retrieved November 3, 2019, from

Ruckert, A., Huynh, C., & Labonté, R. (2018). Reducing health inequities: Is universal basic income the way forward? Journal of Public Health, 40(1), 3–7.

Sheiham, A. (2005). Oral health, general health and quality of life. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 83(9), 644.

This section discusses ways in which UBI might lead to an improvement in physical health through addressing the socioeconomic determinants of health.

Adults in the United States living in poverty are more than five times as likely to report fair or poor health as adults with a median income (Braveman & Egerter, 2013; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2019). Low-income adults in the United States have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, chronic arthritis and other chronic diseases compared to wealthier individuals in the United States (Schiller et al., 2012). This burden is shared by children living in poverty who experience higher rates of asthma, heart conditions, hearing problems, digestive disorders, and elevated blood levels. Children living in poverty are also more exposed to risk factors for medical conditions such as childhood obesity than children in higher income households (Woolf et al., 2015).

Strong evidence suggests that an absolute increase in an individual’s income floor would directly improve health outcomes (Benzeval et al., 2014; Braveman et al., 2010, 2011; Woolf et al., 2015). There remains much debate, however, about the specific causal pathways that link income and health. The pathways are complex both between income groups and across the life cycle; they intersect with where an individual lives (geographical location), the access they have to services, and the cultural context of an individual’s life (school, work, community). The pathways are also bi-directional and inter-generational (Benzeval et al., 2014). While complex, individuals with greater income tend to be able to afford health care services and health insurance, engage in healthier lifestyles, live in more advantageous communities, and have income for coping from ill health (Benzeval et al., 2014; Woolf et al., 2015).

Recognizing the complexities of the casual pathways that link income and health, a UBI could still serve as a key component to addressing some of the challenges in population health. A UBI could possibly minimize the health risks associated with higher rates of chronic disease and illness among adults and children by addressing the underlying socioeconomic and environmental circumstances (Mah, 2017). These health risks include increased tobacco use, raised blood pressure, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and harmful use of alcohol (Public Health Agency Canada, 2015). Economic insecurity, among other socioeconomic circumstances, has been shown to contribute to chronic stress, and therefore to impact these risks and result in worse health outcomes (Forget, 2018).

UBI could minimize these risks because it serves as a form of income security or insurance, whether or not an individual works (Forget, 2011). For those receiving the basic income in the Finland basic income experiment (2017–2018), for example, self-perceived levels of stress were lower than for those not participating. Because 54.8 percent of participants considered their health to be very good or good relative to 46.2 percent of nonparticipants, it is possible that lower stress contributed to a better perception of one’s overall health and wellbeing (Kangas et al., 2019). Moreover, empirical data from the Canadian MINCOME (1975–1978) showed an 8.5 percent decline in hospitalizations related to accidents and injuries (Forget, 2011) - including those injuries that are highly correlated with income insecurity induced stress, such as, car accidents, children suffering from accidents while parents are out harvesting, and alcohol induced injuries.

One’s health is also determined by social factors such as where one lives and the civic and economic vitality of one’s community. But, increasingly, income inequality is making it difficult for individuals to afford to live in healthier, more advantageous communities (Forget, 2018). Those who live in less advantageous communities often experience higher levels of chronic stress and face challenges with a number of community-level health-related factors (access to healthy food, affordable housing, transportation, school systems, jobs and health care, environmental pollution, among others) (Benzeval et al., 2014; Woolf et al., 2015).

If a UBI was funded progressively, it could reduce some of the health inequities among individuals living in low income communities by allowing for increased access to quality services and housing (Ruckert et al., 2018). Results from the U.S.-run New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment (1968–1972), the Gary Maintenance Income Experiment (1971–1974), and the Denver and Seattle Maintenance Income Experiments (1971–1982) showed that those receiving the income transfer tended to have higher mobility rates than households in the control groups (positive effects on private rental expenses) (Kaluzny, 1979). In the Gary experiment, poor housing conditions and dissatisfaction with current dwelling conditions were positively related to mobility (Kaluzny, 1979).

While there is a relationship between income and health outcomes, additional research is needed to understand how a basic income dispersed universally would play out on health disparities across different income levels and in different country contexts with varying healthcare systems.

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Benzeval, M., Lorenc, T., Petticrew, M., Campbell, M., Egan, M., Bond, L., & Petticrew, M. (2014). How Does Money Influence Health? (p. 70). Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Braveman, P. A., Cubbin, C., Egerter, S., Williams, D. R., & Pamuk, E. (2010). Socioeconomic Disparities in Health in the United States: What the Patterns Tell Us. American Journal of Public Health, 100(S1), S186–S196.

Braveman, P. A., & Egerter, S. (2013). Overcoming Obstacles to Health in 2013 and Beyond [RWJF Commission to Build A Healthier America]. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Braveman, P. A., Egerter, S., & Braclay, C. (2011). Income, Wealth and Health (Series Number 4; Exploring the Social Determinants of Health). Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Forget, E. L. (2011). The Town with No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy, 37(3), 283–305.

Forget, E. L. (2018). Basic income for Canadians: The key to a healthier, happier, more secure life for all. James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers.

Kaluzny, R. L. (1979). Changes in the Consumption of Housing Services: The Gary Experiment. The Journal of Human Resources, 14(4), 496.

Kangas, O., Jauhiainen, S., Simanainen, M., & Ylikännö, M. (2019). The basic income experiment 2017–2018 in Finland Preliminary results. 34.

Mah, S. (2017, October 12). Is Basic Income the next big population health intervention? [Basic Income Earth Network].

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (2019). 2019 Poverty Guidelines. Department of Health and Human Services.

Public Health Agency Canada. (2015, April 9). Chronic Disease Risk Factors. Government of Canada.

Ruckert, A., Huynh, C., & Labonté, R. (2018). Reducing health inequities: Is universal basic income the way forward? Journal of Public Health, 40(1), 3–7.

Schiller, J., Lucas, J., & Peregoy, J. (2012). Summary Health Statistics for U.S.Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2011 (Series 10, Report 256; Vital and Health Statistics). National Center for Health Statistics.

Woolf, S., Simon, S., Aron, L., Zimmerman, E., Dubay, L., & Luk, K. (2015). How Are income and Wealth Linked to Health and Longevity? (No. 1; Income and Health Initiative). Urban Institute.

Attributions: The research and design processes and the written summaries presented in the visualization included contributions from faculty director and PI for this project, Juliana Bidadanure; program manager, Sarah Berger Gonzalez; postdoctoral fellow, Rebecca Hasdell; and, graduate fellows Neryvia Pillay Bell, Guillermo Gomez, Sophia Hunt, Yi Jee Kee, Olga Lenczewska, Joan O’Bryan, Prach Panchakunathorn, Michelle Reddy, Avshalom Schwratz and Lara Spencer.

The Basic Income Lab also relied on the careful scrutiny of a range of UBI experts for reviewing the research and providing timely suggestions to strengthen the work, including Jhumpa Bhattacharya (Insight Center for Community Economic Development), Emilee Booth Chapman (Stanford University), Evelyn Forget (University of Manitoba), and Almaz Zelleke (New York University).

Sponsors: This Research Visualization was made possible with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Jain Family Institute and the Economic Security Project.

Suggested citation for the Research Visualization: Stanford Basic Income Lab (2020). « Name of Theme: Name of Subtheme ». Online Research Visualization. Accessed on (DATE).