Would UBI Kill Low Paying Jobs?


I don’t think UBI would hurt unskilled employment and might even help.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

One of the many claims against Universal Basic Income is that businesses wouldn’t be able to find people willing to work for low wages.

I’m not sure that’s true. If you have enough UBI to be secure, a job is extra money, money you don’t need. Maybe you have impediments that eliminate higher-paying jobs, maybe you don’t want to travel far, maybe you actually enjoy customer service. Maybe you are just bored.

People work really crappy volunteer jobs right now, so money isn’t always the motivation.

If you can get extra money for something that you enjoy, but can afford to quit the minute you don’t enjoy it, your attitude and your employer’s attitude change.

I think it would be true that low pay workers under UBI would expect more respect, would not put up with being treated as throwaway tools, but the plus side for the employer is that they’d get more conscientious and committed workers.

But there’s another reason: In my view, if your business cannot afford to give all of its employees a living wage, you are not a business: you are a leech on society because those employees will have to be supported by the rest of us. Some will need welfare assistance, some will require emergency room visits that they can’t pay for, driving up costs for all of us. Some will have trouble maintaining their automobiles, creating safety and pollution problems for all of us. Unfortunately, some will have difficulty caring for their children, which either costs us money now or will when the cycle of poverty repeats.

I’m retired. Social Security and our investments give us enough to live on, but I took a pretty difficult retail job for a fifth of what I earned before retiring. I quit that when COVID arrived, but I’m thinking about going back to it next year. I miss it, and extra money is, of course, extra money.

UBI, if it passes at all, will likely be miserly, so unemployed people may still need to work to survive. If a low stipend replaces Social Security, millions of us will want full-time employment, no matter how difficult that will be on our aging bodies and minds. That’s another reason I want to go back part-time now: if the GOP castrates Social Security, having a part-time position makes it more possible to transition to full-time.

UBI would be a good thing for all of us. It would replace many social programs and eliminate the expensive overhead associated with validating recipients and their benefits. Those who already have sufficient income would pay it back, and more, in taxes. It would be a win-win all around.


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