By Les Hoffman
Buffalo has had unacceptably high childhood poverty rates for decades. The rate in Buffalo has reached a 10-year high of 54 percent, according to recent census numbers reported in The Buffalo News on Oct. 1. “Nearly 32,000 Buffalo children are poor, almost enough to sell out the downtown KeyBank Center – twice,” reporter Jay Rey wrote. This is terrible news, and the problem is not limited to Buffalo.
A guaranteed basic income for all children holds the potential to significantly alleviate this problem. Nine national experts on poverty have proposed a $250-a-month payment for every child, according to the Russell Sage Foundation, as reported in the New York Times on Oct. 16. Such a program will reduce child poverty nationally by 40 percent, they report.
On a universal scale, basic income can create a minimum income for all citizens in our advanced economy without bureaucracy or stigma. Basic income is an income unconditionally granted to all citizens on an individual basis, without means testing or a work requirement. It is a form of minimum income guarantee paid to individuals, irrespective of any income from other sources.
A guaranteed basic income will lower unemployment and poverty. It will raise the standard of living of the people who need it most and create a path toward eliminating need-based government support; namely, unemployment insurance, welfare and food stamps.
Basic income encourages employment by removing barriers to low- or even moderate-paying jobs. Child care and transportation costs, borne by the employee, often cost nearly as much as take-home pay, making work financially unrewarding. Basic income can help to cover those expenses while individuals work to lift their standard of living.
Some argue that initial funding for basic income can be found in existing government budgets. The Economist devoted its “Daily Chart” feature to universal basic income in June. The Economist says existing social programs, if redirected, could pay every U.S. citizen $6,300. (Denmark was highest at $10,900; Mexico had the lowest at $900.)
Former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and conservative economist Milton Freedman both supported the idea of a guaranteed income for children in the 1960s and ’70s.
It’s time we look for structural solutions to the country’s persistent challenges to childhood poverty and poor-paying jobs. It’s time for a discussion on basic income.
Les Hoffman has a bachelor of arts in economics. He has served as president of the board of directors of the City Honors/Fosdick-Masten Foundation, the Lexington Co-op and Central Referral Services, all nonprofit organizations serving significant numbers of poor and low-income people.