UBI, basic needs and employment

Wrong. It’s not your money being returned.


10 Myths and Misconceptions About Social Security (aarp.org)

I already get a bucketload of resentment about any and all government programs (except tax breaks for mortgages) from my politically conservative friends and acquaintances. At this point, it’s one monotonous din of bitching about everything so one more new complaint doesn’t register with me.

I’m interested about the stability of the society I live in. If you have massive numbers of people who have no income, or insufficient income to live on, that is very destabilizing because, by and large, people won’t calmly shuffle off to die in a corner. They get very cranky with nothing left to lose.

If the so-called job creators can’t create sufficient jobs to keep the masses employed then we’re going to have to come up with a different means to keep them from becoming starving and desperate. The “job creators” have had the decades since Reagan, forty years, to make things work the way they claimed they would work. It hasn’t happened. It’s time to look at alternatives.

The number of US employed persons in 1980 was approximately 100 million. At the start of 2020, pre-Covid, it was approximately 159 million, so 59% growth. (The link provides a graph that shows the number of US employed persons for date ranges.)

To put that into context, we need to look at the US population. Google says it was 226.5 million in 1980 and 331 million in 2020. That’s a 46% increase in population.

In other words, pre-Covid, US job growth has exceeded population growth since Reagan’s 1980 election. Justifying UBI based on jobs disappearing isn’t backed by the evidence.

And how many of those jobs are minimum wage rather than the “good jobs” that were promised? How many of those jobs are held by individuals needing to work 2 jobs to get by? How many of those jobs involve working 60 or 80 hours a week that really should be split between two workers?

Also, you’re looking at TOTAL population - the very old, the very young, and the disabled don’t/can’t work and should not be considered in such calculations.

UBI isn’t about just disappearing jobs, it’s also about jobs that don’t pay enough to live on even if you work full time.

If you want to make the case that the ratio of quality jobs/overall jobs has declined in the US since the 1980’s has declined, then make it. You’re throwing out questions rather than supplying evidence. I suspect you won’t be able to since the number of knowledge-based jobs has massively increased, and the median real-wage has risen over that time.

Just to put some facts into this, here’s a Congressional Research Service analysis of real wages for the period we’re talking about. (PDF)

Overall, median wages increased from an estimated $21.14 to $23.00 (a 8.8% increase) over the 1979 to 2019 period.

Or, if you want more closely at what’s happening with the good jobs:

In summary, analysis of the data shows that overall wages rose in real terms over the 1979 to 2019 period at the top of the wage distribution, increased more modestly at the middle of the wage distribution, and rose to an even lesser degree at the bottom of the distribution.

So basically, more people are employed, more people have better jobs, and in aggregate even the people at the bottom are better off, even if they had a lower level of improvement. Some groups at the bottom were worse off, especially people with lower levels of educational attainment. That’s the basis for an argument for a higher minimum wage and more investment in education, not for Universal Basic Income.

Right. I’m asking YOU questions in order to increase my knowledge. You seem to have very ready access to data on this, so I am asking you in order to learn more. Did you think I was arguing with you? My position is not fixed on this topic.

Hey, I’m totally OK with increased minimum wage and “more investment in education”. I would ALSO like to remove the age limitations I encountered the last time I was looking into what’s called “worker retraining” during the Great Recession. While some people my age are, indeed, nearing the end of their working lives I myself am healthy and have a good prospect of living a healthy old age and reaching my 90’s. I do not want to stop all work at this point and sit on my backside all day, but what seemed a sure-fire means to always be employed 40 years ago in my youth no longer applies. I’ve lost a career due to advancing technology and automation not once but twice, but I’m not ready to retire we need to dispense with the notion that people over 45 aren’t worth retraining when some of us could contribute to the economy for another few decades.

Admittedly, that is a very personal viewpoint but if I can’t take care of myself I simply can’t get around to solving everything else wrong with the world. :wink:

Many, many aspects of our society and economy were designed for conditions that prevailed 50 or even 100 years ago and should be revised. I’m am happy to hear suggestions about how to go about that provided they don’t involve large number of people becoming homeless or starving.

Actually the relevant measure is labor force participation rate:

Otto von Bismarck was a putz in many, many ways but one of his greatest achievements was instituting state socialism in the newly-formed German Republic. This was out of personal self-interest – he’d read of or watched France’s tearing itself apart every forty years since 1789, sometimes with bourgeoisie heads literally rolling – and wanted to avoid that.

The real grievance of the worker is the insecurity of his existence; he is not sure that he will always have work, he is not sure that if he will always be healthy, and he foresees that he will one day be old and unfit to work. If he falls into poverty, even if only through a prolonged illness, he is then completely helpless, left to his own devices, and society does not currently recognize any real obligation toward him beyond the usual help for the poor, even if he has been working all the time ever so faithfully and diligently. The usual help for the poor, however, leaves a lot to be desired, especially in large cities, where it is very much worse than in the country.


I would’ve felt differently 5 years ago, or even last year, but I think UBI may turn out to be an idea whose time has come.

The one thing I’m taking away from the recent situation in the labor market is that fast food restaurants and other low income employers have been profiting from the desperation of a low income workforce that lives on the edge of financial ruin, a state of existence where a missed paycheck risks sending them into a spiral of loss.

It’s not that people don’t want to work, it’s that they don’t want to wear a polyester pantsuit and deal with obnoxious customers and greasy food all day for $7.00 bucks an hour. Giving people a modicum of financial security can buy people time to find a job that’s right for them, or to train for something more lucrative. It would also incentivize employers to make the shitty jobs less shitty, or at least better paying. The fast food job might get some takers at $15 an hour.

Now, I’m a retired business owner that likes capitalism but I believe for it to work fairly the playing field has to be level. Conservatives will whine that minimum wages are a free market distortion but I feel that holding a workforce in a state of economic slavery where they effectively have to take that horrible minimum wage job rather than spending a week looking for something better is a far greater distortion.

What I am seeing is that a little financial cushion can pull people out of the desperation and give them some input as to what their labor is worth.

And just as an aside: if any conservatives out there think that the fact that low wage jobs are going unfilled is an economic disaster, there’s a whole bunch of people amassed on our Southern border begging to come in and work for minimum wage. You don’t like that, either. Sorry for the brief hijack

I generally agree with you except I would make this $15/hr equivalent. I think that once we have UBI people will be willing to work for less per hour. The $1,000 UBI payment works out to $5.81/hour so there will probably be takers at $9.19/hour since over all it will be a step up for the worker. Being able to pay less will be a benefit for the employers and will help to brake some of the inflationary effects of UBI.

ETA: the employer and the employee will also save on social security, and unemployment taxes and on this bottom end there will probably not be an income tax change so the take home number would be higher at even lower per hour wages.

I think it’s like standing around with a fire extinguisher in your left hand, a Bible in your right hand, and telling somebody who is on fire that you’re a person of deep and abiding faith, and that G-d will save them.

And then walking away.

At some point, fuck your ideology. Put down the book and help.

I feel similarly about the “free market,” its All In When It Suits ThemTM acolytes, and their views on the MW.

[and – like you – I’ll drop the threadjack ;-)]

It will be whatever the market makes it. You are probably right that it won’t be $15 an hour, not if people are already receiving a living wage as a citizen, but the negotiation for pay will not be nearly as one sided.

If I need a job to prevent homelessness, then I take the job at what you are willing to pay me. If I don’t need a job to prevent homelessness, then I can hold out to be paid what I think that my time is worth.

What I do think will happen is a whole lot more part time work. Your basic needs are taken care of, so rather than spending 40 hours a week working, you spend 15 or 20 to pick up some extra money for your wants.

People generally want full time so that they don’t have to have multiple jobs in order to pay the bills. They also need full time to get healthcare, and if we have UHC, that’s not necessary either.

I agree. There should a a lot more part time employees by choice. Since they are working for their enjoyment money the goal would theoretically be the least hours to do whatever fun they want while at the highest pay they can get. The least hours doesn’t apply right now because they have to get enough hours to cover the basics and then work more for fun.

I think you’re right that an abundance of labour causes a distortion between the actual price for labour and the ideal equilibirium price that would exist if there was a slight abundance on the jobs side, and that UBI could be helpful in alleviating that gap.

To try to explain what I mean, suppose there was a situation with easy free movement of workers between jobs, 1000 workers and 1010 jobs, of which 10 jobs were pretty awful, but didn’t require any skills. The workers with the best skills and abilities in this situation would still draw the highest wages, and the least skilled/abled workers would still end up with the minimum wage, whether that minimum was mandated or market-based. In this situation, the 10 awful jobs would never be filled at minimum-wage. Instead, the awful job employers would have to pay a premium wage to entice workers to move from other jobs to the awful jobs. (Let’s ignore other wage movements while the market establishes an equilibrium, both here and below.)

Now let’s change the situation to one where there are 1020 workers, and also stipulate that there are no unemployment benefits or welfare or UBI. The 10 least able/skilled workers are going to receive no wages, and the next 10 least able/skilled workers are going to be working at the awful jobs for minimum wage. That gap between the wage price for the awful jobs when there’s a scarcity of labour versus a scarcity of jobs represents the difference between the ideal wage price for the awful jobs versus the market price.

Let’s change the scenario again, and say that in our new scenario unemployment welfare exists and pays out at 50% of minimum wage. If the choice is between starving on no wages or taking an awful job, almost no one is going to choose to starve. However, some people would choose to receive 50% of minimum wage rather than working an awful job. Suppose 20 of our 1020 workers feel that way. The price point for the wages for the awful jobs has just moved back from the second scenario to the first scenario. The removal of this price difference between what I’m calling the ideal price for the awful jobs, versus the market price when there’s an abundance of labour seems to me to be the greatest economic benefit, at least in terms of microeconomics, of unemployment welfare. I basically view UBI as an attempt to remove the stigma of unemployment welfare and make it more palatable to society since everyone would be receiving the benefit, not just the unemployed.


Recall in the first scenario that some people working at ordinary non-awful jobs would still be making minimum wage. Let’s tweak our third scenario and say that 30 workers would prefer to receive the 50% of minimum wage unemployment welfare, rather than working for minimum wage, whether it’s at an awful job or an ordinary job. Ten of those ordinary jobs are going to have to pay above minimum wage to entice the welfare recipients back into the market. That means that all the jobs that were paying minimum wage will have to pay progressively higher wages until a new wage floor is established. That’s inflationary.

Or let’s go even further, and suppose that 30 workers would prefer to receive the 50% of minimum wage unemployment welfare rather than working for any reasonable wage, and another 10 workers would prefer to receive the 50% of minimum wage unemployment welfare rather than working at minimum wage. So now we’ve got 10 jobs not being filled at all, meaning the society is less productive, plus we’ve got the inflationary effect.

As a conservative, I’m quite happy for the first scenario to exist. I’m unhappy with the second scenario. What I worry about, is that in an attempt to solve that problem, society will end up with the fifth scenario instead of the third.

(To everyone who’s made it this far, congratulations. Hopefully you could follow the numbers, even if you needed a scratch pad. This essay would have been a lot better if I could/would have added charts.)

I don’t really buy this type of analysis, I think there are just too many factors you’re missing, such as the value people place on their own time, the fact that many jobs can be eliminated by automation at a cost, the effect of increased spending caused by UBI on the labor market and the fluidity of the labor market For example, it might be easier to fill a job at a guitar store for minimum wage than a job at a poultry plant, because it’s not always all about the pay.

Funny how conservatives spent four years trying to artificially jack up the labor market, gutting regulation and worker protections in the name of “job creation”, while deporting as many immigrant low wage workers ( they were taking your jobs, be very afraid) as they could legally get their hands on.

Here’s the lesson. We all knew it wasn’t really about jobs, it was about allowing workforce exploitation and getting rid of brown people. But even so, they created the labor shortage and they need to own it. No job has to be unfilled, the workforce is fluid, if the job pays enough the workers will appear, they’ll move to you, they’ll come out of retirement or quit being full-time moms.

But one thing that I’m taking away from the conservative POV in this thread is the UBI will be bad if it empowers workers and gives them more freedom to be the one that places a value on their own labor, because the poor must be deprived of “dignity” until they agree to put on a paper hat and neon polyester pantsuit and stand behind a greasy counter and take abuse because they can’t cook French fries fast enough.

But it will be good if it acts as back door corporate welfare by driving down wages and finds it’s way back into the wallets of business owners and shareholders.

Conservatives view welfare programs that help individuals as nothing redistribution, a legal pocket picking. But they’re wrong. First, it’s stimulus. Welfare is stimulus. Food stamps are stimulus. It’s money that is injected right back into the economy. Food Aid programs not only help hungry people, they help stabilize the supply and demand for food during economic downturns.

UBI would be stimulus, and as a liberal I believe that people having money to spend and time to spend it is the way to economic growth.

But conservatives will scream inflation, although they didn’t care about the inflationary effects of Trumps 25% revenge tariffs. Walmart’s not as cheap as it used to be. Runaway inflation is bad, but a little inflation isn’t always a bad thing - I wouldn’t mind getting some interest on my money market accounts.

ETA: I recommend reading Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Ridk, about government agencies in the Trump years. The people that administer the food programs hate hate hate the Republican drive to stigmatize the programs, because they want eligible people to participate. They don’t like it when kids go hungry because the parents can’t deal with being humiliated over food aid.

Where I live, the biggest problem with living, is the cost of housing. I make a lot more than minimum wage, but I still can’t afford to live by myself. I have to have a roommate. If they wanted to help the poor and the working poor, housing costs need to be addressed.

While I broadly agree with your point, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone, especially a young person starting out, to need a roommate in order to afford housing. I was 35 before I could afford my own apartment ( I had roommates until then) and my jobs paid well above minimum wage.

The best way to help housing costs is to encourage people to leave high cost areas. We need to build the infrastructure into the middle of the country and out of the cities so that people can leave the cities and still have a well paying job. Obviously, nationwide broadband will enable work from home jobs to be done any where but we also need to encourage manufacturing businesses to move into small towns that are well connected to the rest of the country by roads and rail networks. UBI is a component of that so that people can move to low cost areas without having a job and spend money in the local economy to bring in a job after they’ve moved.

I am closer to retirement than high school. Housing costs where I live are incredibly high.

I live next to (technically on) an Indian Reservation whose tribe provides a UBI for their tribal members. The poorest parts of the reservation look like a 3rd world country. It reminds me of the very poor areas in Tijuana, Mexico.

It’s a strange thing to see in the U.S. My wife and I went over to a couple’s property (house run down & abandoned) where they were living in a trailer (not a mobile home). But yet they had a 70" TV inside the trailer and the newest iPhones.

I know there are studies showing it would help but the real-life examples of UBI I’ve seen have been almost entirely negative.