The Surprising Growing Appeal of Universal Basic Income in the U.S.

How it could help many — including freelancers and other gig economy workers

Karen DeGroot Carter
11 min readAug 10, 2020


Rolled-up U.S. money, including twenties, ones, two-dollar bills
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Universal basic income (UBI) is a basic concept: A government gives citizens money on a regular basis to help them pay for shelter, clothing, and food for themselves and their dependents. It’s also complex, however, in its possible applications and potential pros and cons — especially since it resurrects age-old, often racially charged, arguments against welfare and other forms of public assistance.

Yet, UBI is growing in popularity not only among progressive Democrats in the U.S. but among Republicans. To understand why — and consider whether UBI is something that may become a reality in the U.S. in the near future — it helps to start with the very basics of basic income.

Basic Income Lab at Stanford

Established in 2017, the Basic Income Lab at Stanford University provides a helpful resource for those who may not have a background in economics but still want to understand how basic income works. According to the Basic Income Lab website, basic income is:

  • Periodic (paid in monthly or other regular payments)
  • Paid in cash
  • Universal (paid to every citizen)
  • Individual (paid to each resident of a household rather than to a household)
  • Unconditional (paid without requiring proof of employment, unemployment, etc.)

When basic income is defined as being universal, the moniker UBI applies.

Many decades in the making

The history of UBI as a proposed way to combat poverty in the U.S. is interesting and much longer and more diverse than one might expect. Late twentieth-century proponents included not only Martin Luther King, Jr. but Richard Nixon. In 2016, UBI became a talking point when it was promoted by the likes of Andrew Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, and Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.



Karen DeGroot Carter

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