Universal basic income plans are not new. But Andrew Yang, the 44-year-old entrepreneur from New York who is running for president, has made universal income his signature issue.
Yang’s proposal would give $1,000 to every American over the age of 18. He argues that the money will create jobs and pump more revenue into the economy. He calls his universal income plan the “freedom dividend.”
But would it actually work and how would it impact African Americans? Though the idea has never been tested across the U.S., the state of Alaska (population 750,000 residents) receives a dividend of $1,000 or $2,000 a year in oil profits. Yang says his plan is similar.
The proposal for universal income is not new. In his 1967 book, Chaos or Community, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed basic universal income. In 1973, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Politics of a Guaranteed Income and pushed for a guaranteed minimum income.
“Black entrepreneurship will flourish when black consumers have more money to spend,” Yang said on Roland Martin Unfiltered last month. The median white family has 41 times more wealth than the median African American family. The average white household had $111,146 in wealth in 2011 and the average black household $7,111.
During a Democratic debate in June, Yang was asked how his idea would work. He argues that the winners of the modern tech economy do not pay back into the system they are becoming rich off of. “It’s difficult if you have trillion-dollar tech companies paying zero in taxes while they’re closing 30% of our stores,” Yang answered. Many of the jobs held at small retail stores are held by low-income individuals.
Critics maintain that his plan is expensive, costing $3.2 trillion a year. Yang cites that the 2008 bank bailout cost $29 trillion and business subsidies and tax breaks were even more expensive. The discussion centers around a growing reality in the U.S. workforce: Robots are replacing humans and eliminating jobs. It is estimated that 25% of jobs humans are completing will soon be replaced by robots in the near future.
Those holding lower-paying jobs are the employees hardest hit. “Being a truck driver is the most common job in 29 states, and the trucks are going to start driving themselves,” Yang often asserts. He argues that President Donald Trump is driving much of the political discussion around job loss into an immigration argument when the reality is the real issue is that many people will be replaced by machines. Four million manufacturing jobs have been automated away in the very states that are the most competitive on the electoral map in a presidential election. It is not an accident that Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have been in play for the last decade and the central issue is jobs.
Some say that African Americans may likely benefit from Yang’s plan. Almost 30% of African Americans live below the poverty line. “Family wealth and debt is something that is produced in particular historical periods and under particular historical circumstances,” maintains Brandeis University Professor Tom Shapiro. “Some groups are provided with robust state incentives to gain, accumulate, and keep their wealth. Other groups are prevented from owning property, banking,” he added. That history of wealth discrimination based on race has continued to present day.”