When we talk about Basic Income, what some people don’t realize is that we’re talking about a per person income, not a per household income. This confusion is understandable, because right now, the USA’s welfare system is entirely based on households as a single entity; how many in your household? What’s the total household income? Who in the household is a dependant, rather than a potential wage earner?
It reduces the chosen interdependency of families and households, to a government-regulated and controlled unit. Your access to financial support, housing, even food, is tied to your household remaining within the strict framework they have defined for you. Choices that defy that framework -like a teen getting a part time job, or someone leaving the home, or needing to take time of work for health reasons- put the financial stability and structure of the whole household at risk.
Many people don’t realize that “getting a job” can actually be detrimental overall for someone on welfare. When you gain paid employment while on welfare, your benefits are reduced or cut off from the moment you are employed. There’s no buffer period or overlap. Meaning that families who pay their bills when they get their welfare check at the beginning of the month, now find themselves without income until the first paycheck comes in- often causing debt to increase, aggravating the poverty situation. The same with medical coverage- lose your state-based coverage because you got a job, and hope no one gets six in the 3-9 months before employer coverage kicks in.
With person-centered Basic Income, however, we acknowledge two major things:
- That households come in many different configurations and dynamics, and that people come and go from households.
- That a person’s right to a stable financial baseline is not based on who they live with, or what their relationship is to those people.
These two things are vital for personal independence. No one should ever feel like their right to freedom from suffering is tied to another person, or people. This is especially important when people find themselves in households that are unhealthy, or supportive. Look at the statistics on domestic violence- financial dependency is one of the ways abusers control their victims. With a Basic Income tied to them, victims have more freedom to escape. Look at the statistics on LGBTQ teens-far to many of them are becoming homeless because of families that reject them- with a Basic Income, starting a new life is possible. Or, for a recent example- the college athlete who suddenly found her finances cut off and her education at risk, because her parents saw a picture of her with her girlfriend. She had to resort to crowdfunding to survive, which caused her to almost lose her scholarship. It was only because of the public outcry that the NCAA relented. This sort of manipulation is unacceptable and Basic Income, distributed to individuals, helps people resist and recover.
Individual Basic Income gives people more freedom to chose when, how and with whom, they live. It allows us to expand our idea of what a “household” is. It give people the freedom to make decisions that they couldn’t, if their financial status was solely tied to other people, or a job. Someone could move to another area to do job hunting, without fear of poverty while looking. Someone could take time off for health reasons, without fearing the loss of employment income. Someone could choose to do volunteer work, or sign up to do disaster relief work, or take time off for a hobby, without someone else going “I don’t think you should do that!”
People can make their own choices- because they have their own stability, something based on the fact that they are an individual member of society with their own value and worth as a human being. Not their paid employment status, not their status as someone’s parent, child, spouse or significant other, not whether they’re in school or not.
Imagine what that sort of understanding would do for you…if you knew that no matter where you were, or what you were doing, you could rely on $1000/month to keep you going. It’s not going to fix everything, but you’ll never be utterly bereft.