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COVID-19 and the Brave New World: Is it Time for a Universal Basic Income?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William and Layné Clements
April 28, 2020

It is an undeniable truth that the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic has exposed major shortfalls, injustices and unfairness in the current makeup of the American economy. Economists and policy analysts have warned public administrators of its volatility for decades, but these warnings were largely disregarded. As a result, this disturbance has introduced severe suffering in the lives of millions of Americans. Americans have been asked to “come together” or “unite” to overcome COVID-19’s effects and in forming this cooperating union, we must set aside political ideologies for the betterment of the society and consider implementing a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Once again, we witness those working under unstable conditions lacking benefits and pensions being asked to now sacrifice public health, their family and their very lives to show the “strength of America” by returning to unsafe environments without proper protections in hopes of stimulating the plummeting economy. However, the strength of America should not be found in our nonessential sacrificing of the health and future of hard-working Americans and their loved ones, but in fairness, justice and equal opportunity for every American.

It is difficult to comprehend what the “opening up of America” would actually look like or consist of at this point in the pandemic and why administrators, governors and mayors are outwardly ever-willing to risk the lives of countless Americans instead of protecting their constituencies by providing each American with a UBI that is taxable and guaranteed. As a policy expert, I am extremely appalled by the rhetoric many of our policymakers and administrators have concluded to utilize.

Below are generalized sentiments propagated by various administrators/policymakers. (The identity of the individual(s) summarized in the following statements have not been attributed in an attempt to remain as politically unbiased and unaffiliated as possible.)

  1. State and local governments created these problems with the bad decisions of the past and we do not want them to capitalize on this pandemic to solve those problems.
    1. If we wish to accept this sentiment, we must remember the numerous bail-outs the government and Wall Street companies have received which were provided by none other than the same constituencies many times over.
  2. Older generations are willing to sacrifice their lives to secure financial freedom for their children and grandchildren.
    1. This belief is entirely dissociated from the growing 2.7 million grandparents serving as primary caregivers to children of those affected by military deployments, addiction, mental health issues and incarceration as approximately one-fifth of these households live below the income-based poverty line. It also ignores the droves of younger individuals losing their lives to COVID-19.

Perhaps instead of assuming the sole avenue of achieving positive economic gain is to withhold federal aid and chalk the inevitable exponentiated death rates up as a means to an end, we should explore another option available, which many individuals will not introduce. How and why is requesting the sacrifices of thousands of lives more appealing and acceptable than simply issuing a national UBI?

To further elaborate on this position and a proposed length of this approach, the remaining portion of this work will be utilized to provide an insightful, well-informed perspective.

Rationale for UBI

A majority of economists and policymakers recognize that the American economy is based on service which requires Americans to procure a disposable income in order to purchase particular services that are necessary to ensuring job security to millions of Americans. Therefore, an estimated UBI of $2,500 per month is a reasonable beginning value. This standardized form of benefit allows Americans to receive financial stability regardless of income or employment status. Various impacts of “economic uncertainty” show up in the stock market as well as contribute to the mental health crisis plaguing Americans and that is predicted to continue well after the pandemic’s fallout is available for assessment. However, it is imperative to recall the stock market’s “jump” following the government’s issuing of stimulus checks (a convenient form of UBI) to Americans. From a public health perspective, poverty is still one of the most comprehensive determinants of health, proving that subsidized healthcare often falls short in effectively combatting perpetual causes of disease and illness. Implementing a UBI could (and has been shown to) reduce other negative contributions to health like crime, food insecurity and inequity.

Length of UBI

The position of the authors is that each American should receive UBI benefits for an indefinite period of time. This is an important step to ensuring that each American is given the opportunity to contribute within the American economy, provide safe and secure environments for children of all backgrounds and allow the American economy to be enjoyed by every consumer. I believe COVID-19 has severed the red tape previously preventing the conversation on these difficult and complex issues which has allowed for a more enlightened, unrestricted discussion. Again, please feel free to contact the email below as we would welcome hearing from readers and fellow researchers regarding this proposal.


William Clements, Ph.D., is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at higher education institutions. As a B.S. of Justice Studies, an M.S. of Forensic Psychology (concentration: Legal Systems), and a PhD of Public Policy and Administration (concentration: Public Management and Leadership), he is a research fellow at the Institute for Polarities of Democracy and has served in public service fields for 13+ years. His interests include investigative journalism, economics, politics, and, of course, public policy.

Layné Clements, B.S. in Biological and Biomedical Sciences (minor: Chemistry), has been a laboratory researcher for 3+ years and is an advocate for science literacy, public health issues, climate change action, and precision medicine.

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