How America Could Cut Its Poverty in Half, Tomorrow

$175 billion dollars is the amount America spends on Social Security every year. That equals a little over one percent of our nation’s total GDP and comes out to exactly one fourth of the yearly budget of the U.S. military. It is also the difference between our current poverty rate of 15 percent and a rate of zero.

In 2012, The Census reported that 46.5 million Americans resided below the poverty line; collectively, these citizens need the aforementioned $175 billion to be above it. Now, of course, our nation already has a handful of programs, from Social Security to SNAP to the Earned Income Tax Credit, that already alleviate poverty. The latter two programs, as well as others, do not count towards income for poverty purposes; thus the 46.5 million number is slightly deceiving. The number of fully impoverished likely lies between 35 and 40 million.

Regardless, alleviating poverty is not as expensive as it may seem. What’s needed is an efficient and fair way to deliver these funds to the destitute. Economists Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker suggest a “universal basic income.” They argue that giving every single American (including children) roughly $3,000 each year would reduce the poverty rate by half. Naturally, this program would cost a lot: $907 billion if theoretically implemented in 2012. Even if the program excluded Social Security recipients, it would still cost $790 billion, or $90 billion more than our nation’s yearly defense budget.

Where could we find the money? For starters, eliminating a handful of tax expenditures that generally help the affluent could raise around $230 billion. In addition, we’d likely have to raise taxes on every economic class. This would, of course, be hugely unpopular among the current crop of conservative politicians, but it should find support with lower-middle class and poor families—all of which would receive more in universal basic income than they would lose in increased taxation.

Despite its cost, a Universal Basic Income (UBI) clearly has appeal. The most appealing part of his program may be what it could do for people’s actions:

That security might not just keep people out of poverty. It might let workers demand better wages and working conditions, because they know they always have something to fall back on. In other words, it could level the playing field for the bottom 99 percent.

Could this idea gain any traction? I’m afraid not, at least not in this political environment. Remember how much ire this statement provoked? Even though a UBI addresses all citizens, one can already hears the calls of “socialism,” especially given that the only countries having even a modicum of success in establishing a UBI reside in the European Union. Still, as pure food for thought, the idea represents a new, novel way to think about and address poverty in the United States.

Check the video below for a discussion on universal basic incomes:


How To Cut the Poverty Rate in Half (It’s Easy),” Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker, The Atlantic

Commentary Ticker

  • Google Glass Lets You Take Photos With Your Brain
    July 12, 2014 | 4:02 pm

    If you haven’t heard, electroencephalograms (EEGs) have been getting better. Way better. Artificial limbs and even video game controllers are utilizing the non-invasive brain-wave monitoring method to guide computers by thought. Now English startup This Place has developed a way to bring the technology to Google Glass, allowing Google’s wearable to read your mind. Well, […]

  • Android Art: The Accidental Selfies of Google Art Project
    July 5, 2014 | 11:11 am

    Within the cultural centers of the world lurks a mechanical beast draped in silver spinning madly and capturing everything, sometimes even itself. In 2011 Google created the Art Project, an initiative to bring their Street View technology inside the cultural epicenters of the world. Google enlisted 17 world-class museums in short time. Institutions such as […]

  • Purple Mountunes Majesty: The Most Patriotic Playlist
    July 4, 2014 | 12:13 pm

    A while ago, Paul Lamere of The Echo Nest, a music-analysis company, took to finding each state’s most distinctive, yet popular, artist in a viral article. Spotify took note, purchasing Echo Nest for their analytical talent. Together, they’ve released a blog post documenting each state’s most distinctively American song creating a patriotic playlist for the […]

  • Emojinealogy: Where the Heck Emojis Come From
    July 2, 2014 | 3:10 pm

    On June 16th, the Unicode Consortium announced that 250 new emoji would be added to the list of symbols available to people’s cellphones and computer devices. The list of the new symbols can be found on Emojipedia. And no, the list doesn’t include the much needed minority representation, but it does include your favorite (?) […]

  • The Decline and Fall of the American Mall
    June 24, 2014 | 9:07 pm

    For ages, the shopping mall was as essential to the architecture of suburbia as Levittowns and freeways. But in an era of online shopping, these epicenters of brick and mortar yesteryear are quietly being abandoned across the country. While the U.S. currently has around 1,500, the number may soon shrink, and rapidly, leading to abandoned […]

  • RSSArchive for Commentary Ticker »

Join our mailing list!

Trending on The Airspace