Could Universal Basic Income Work in the U.S.?

This kind of policy is not a silver bullet but it could lift 20 million people out of poverty overnight.

How does universal basic income become politically viable in a country like the US? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

I think Universal Basic Income could be viable in the U.S. with three steps:

1. Invest in what we know works. The single most successful program to support economic mobility in the United States has a wonky name that belies its power: the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s the largest cash transfer program in the world. 30 million Americans get between $500 and $6,000 each year to supplement other earnings, no strings attached. And we know it works. Recipients work just as much after they get the money as before, if not more. Their kids do better in school and are more likely to go to college, and families who get it are healthier, not to mention a little less stressed. Rather than starting some brand new program, let’s invest in what we know works.

2. To do this, we should expand and modernize the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide $500 per month to every working adult who makes less than $50k. This money will arrive like clockwork via direct deposit or debit card to address the instability so many families experience. A family with two parents in minimum wage jobs would see overnight a boost to their incomes of 40%. Anyone working gets the money, including people who work in unpaid jobs like childcare, eldercare, and education, which our laws have historically ignored. It is time to expand the definition of work to recognize the contributions millions of Americans are already making, but not getting paid for.

3. We pay for it by bringing tax rates on people like me into line with their historical averages, up to 50%, and closing tax loopholes. This is not about pitchforks coming for the rich, it is about taking care of one another. The total cost would be less than half of what we spend on defense each year.

This kind of policy is not a silver bullet, we still need good schools, better health care, and smart climate policy. But it is the most powerful and immediate thing that we can do to combat income inequality and give everyone a fair shot. It would help 90 million Americans make ends meet and lift 20 million out of poverty overnight.

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