The Shape of Guaranteed Income

Jonathan Morduch and Sidhya Balakrishnan
The Hill, September 27, 2020.

Even when the economy was humming, before COVID-19 hit, having a steady job didn't guarantee escape from money troubles. At the end of 2019, 16 percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve reported that they wouldn't be able to cover their bills that month. Another 12 percent were living so close to the financial edge that they couldn't pay their bills if hit by a $400 emergency expense. 

The hardships documented by the Federal Reserve were greatest for Black and Hispanic Americans. Over one-third of Black Americans with a high school degree or less reported not paying their bills fully — nearly double the national average. Low-wage jobs are disproportionately done by women of color, who are consequently far more likely to lack sick leave and healthcare benefits. Such broad and persistent insecurity demands long-term structural solutions. 

But there are also immediate steps that we can take to address these inequalities. In June, a coalition of fifteen mayors — from cities including Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Newark — came together and identified one key policy priority to address their constituents' most urgent needs: a guaranteed minimum income.

But what form should this guaranteed income take? It's not as obvious as it might seem. Andrew Yang promised Americans $1000 a month if elected. But why $1000? And why every month? 

Wagner Faculty