Category Archives: Poverty

Coronavirus pandemic may throw 60 MILLION people into extreme poverty, World Bank warns

Coronavirus pandemic may throw 60 MILLION people into extreme poverty, World Bank warns
The world’s progress in eliminating poverty is set to suffer a major setback due to the Covid-19 outbreak, forcing more people to survive on less than $1.90 per day, the World Bank has said in its recent report.

“The pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies could push as many as 60 million people into extreme poverty – erasing much of the recent progress made in poverty alleviation,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said. According to him, the unprecedented crisis could wipe out up to three years of progress in the area.

ALSO ON RT.COMCovid-19 crisis could leave $8.8 trillion hole in global economy, Asian Development Bank warns

The pandemic has been ripping through the global economy, which is set to fall into a deep recession and contract by up to five percent this year, the Washington-based institution said.

Last month, the bank said that the virus-triggered economic turmoil is likely to cause the first increase in global poverty since 1998, when the Asian Financial Crisis hit. Even under the bank’s best estimate, some 49 million people will fall into extreme poverty, which it defines as living on less than $1.90 per person per day.

ALSO ON RT.COMCovid-19 crisis could trigger global food shortage, UN warns

To help combat the deadly virus, the World Bank has offered financing emergency programs in 100 countries. In the “largest” crisis response in the Bank Group’s history, the program unlocked $160 billion in grants and financial support over a 15-month period, as well as the suspension of bilateral debt service payments. The bulk of the financial help will go to Sub-Saharan Africa, as it is expected be the region hit hardest in terms of increased extreme poverty.

Most international financial institutions have already sounded alarms over the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with some forecasts indicating that the global gross domestic product (GDP) could fall nearly 10 percent. The UN had earlier warned that the virus could also trigger a global food shortage, while its labor agency forecasts that 195 million jobs could be lost worldwide.

Inequality and the Coronavirus: How to Destroy American Society From the Top Down

Inequality and the Coronavirus: How to Destroy American Society From the Top Down

 

Photograph Source: Mitchell Haindfield – CC BY 2.0

My mom contracted polio when she was 14. She survived and learned to walk again, but my life was deeply affected by that virus. Today, as our larger society attempts to self-distance and self-isolate, my family has texted about the polio quarantine my mom was put under: how my grandma fearfully checked my aunt’s temperature every night because she shared a bedroom with my mom; how they had to put a sign on the front door of the house that read “quarantine” so that no one would visit.

Growing up with a polio survivor, I learned lessons about epidemics, sickness, disability, and inequality that have forever shaped my world. From a young age, I saw that all of us should be valued for our intrinsic worth as human beings; that there is no line between the supposedly deserving and the undeserving; that we should be loved for who we are, not what we do or how much money we have. My mom modeled for me what’s possible when those most impacted by inequality and injustice dedicate their lives to protecting others from what hurts us all. She taught me that the dividing line between sickness and wellbeing loses its meaning in a society that doesn’t care for everyone.

Here’s the simple truth of twenty-first-century America: all of us live in a time and in an economic system that values our lives relative to our ability to produce profits for the rich or in the context of the wealth we possess. Our wellness is measured by our efficiency and — a particular lesson in the age of the coronavirus — our sickness, when considered at all, is seen as an indication of individual limitations or moral failures, rather than as a symptom of a sick society.

About 31 million people are today uninsured in America and 14 states have not even expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The healthcare system is seemingly structured in defiance of the people it should serve, functioning as yet another way to maximize profits at the expense of millions. In this coronavirus moment, many more Americans are finally awakening to the bitter consequences, the damage, wrought when even a single person does not have access to the resources he or she needs to live decently or, for that matter, survive. With the spread of a pandemic, the cost to a nation that often treats collective care as, at best, an afterthought should become apparent. After all, more than 9,000 medical workers, many not adequately protected from the disease, have already contracted it.

For decades, both political parties have pushed the narrative that illness, homelessness, poverty, and inequality are minor aberrations in an otherwise healthy society. Even now, as the possibility of a potentially historic depression looms, assurances that the mechanics of our economy are fundamentally strong (and Covid-19 an unexpected fluke) remain commonplace. And yet, while that economy’s productivity has indeed increased strikingly since the 1970s, the gains from it have gone to an increasingly small number of people (and corporations), while real wages have stagnated for the majority of workers. Don’t be fooled. This crisis didn’t start with the coronavirus: our collapsing oil and gas industry, for instance, points to an energy system that was already on the brink and a majority of economists agree that a manufacturing decline had actually begun in August 2019.

The Cost of Inequality

It should no longer be possible to ignore the structural crisis of poverty and inequality that has been eating away at American society over these last decades. Historic unemployment numbers in recent weeks only reveal how expendable the majority of workers are in a crunch. This is happening at a moment when it’s ever clearer how many of the most “essential” tasks in our economy are done by the least well-paid workers. The ranks of the poor are widening at a startling clip, as many more of us are now experiencing what dire insecurity feels like in an economy built on non-unionized, low-wage work and part-time jobs.

In order to respond to such a crisis and the growing needs of millions, it’s important to first acknowledge the deeper history of injustice and pain that brought us all here. In the last years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., put it well when he said that “the prescription for the cure rests with an accurate diagnosis of the disease.” To develop a cure not just for this virus but for a nation with the deepest kind of inequality at its core, what’s first needed (as with any disease) is an accurate diagnosis.

Today, more than 38 million people officially live below the federal poverty line, and, in truth, that figure should have shocked the nation into action before the coronavirus even arrived here. No such luck and here’s the real story anyway: the official measure of poverty, developed in 1964, doesn’t even take into account household expenses like health care, child care, housing, and transportation, not to speak of other costs that have burgeoned in recent decades. The world has undergone profound economic transformations over the last 66 years and yet this out-of-date measure, based on three times a family’s food budget, continues to shape policymaking at every level of government as well as the contours of the American political and moral imagination.

Two years ago, the Poor People’s Campaign (which I co-chair alongside Reverend William Barber II) and the Institute for Policy Studies released an audit of America. Its centerpiece was a far more realistic assessment of poverty and economic precariousness in this country. Using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure as a baseline, which, among other things, measures family income after taxes and out-of-pocket expenses for food, clothing,
housing, and utilities, there are at least 140 million people who are poor — or just a $400 emergency from that state. (Of that, there are now untold examples in this pandemic moment.)

As poverty has grown and spread, one of the great political weapons of politicians and the ruling elite over the past decades (only emphasized in the age of Trump) has been to minimize, dismiss, and racialize it. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” coded it into Republican national politics; in the 1980s, in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the fabricated image of “the welfare queen” gained symbolic prominence. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s welfare “reforms” enshrined such thinking in the arguments of both parties. Today, given the outright racism and xenophobia that has become the hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency, “poor” has become a curse word.

It is, of course, true that, among the 140 million poor people in the U.S., a disproportionate number are indeed people of color. The inheritance of slavery, Jim Crow, never-ending discrimination, and the mass incarceration of black men in particular, as well as a generational disinvestment in such populations, could have resulted in nothing less. And yet the reality of poverty stretches deep into every community in this country. According to that audit of America, the poor or low-income today consist of 24 million blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asian-Americans, two million Native peoples, and 66 million whites.

Those staggering numbers, already a deadweight for the nation, are likely to prove a grotesque underestimate in the coronaviral world we now inhabit, and yet none of this should be a surprise. Although we couldn’t have predicted the exact circumstances of this pandemic, social theorists remind us that conditions were ripe for just this kind of economic dislocation.

Over the past 50 years, for instance, rents have risen faster than income in every city. Before the coronavirus outbreak, there was not a single county in this country where a person making a minimum wage with a family could afford a two-bedroom apartment. No surprise then that, throughout this crisis, there has been a rise in rent strikeshousing takeovers, and calls for moratoriums on evictions. The quiet fact is that, in the last few decades, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and homelessness have become ever more deeply and permanently structured into this society.

Covid-19 and the Descent Into Poverty

Over the years, one political narrative has been trumpeted by both parties: that we don’t have enough to provide for every American. This scarcity argument has undergirded every federal budget in recent history and yet it falls flat when we look at the 53% of every federal discretionary dollar that goes to the Pentagon, the trillions of dollars that have been squandered in this country’s never-ending war on terror, not to speak of the unprecedented financial gains the wealthiest have made (even in the midst of the current crisis). Of course, this economic order becomes a genuine moral scandal the moment attention is focused on the three billionaires who possess more wealth than the bottom half of society.

Since the government began transferring wealth from the poor to the very rich under the guise of “trickle-down” (but actually gusher-up) economics, key public institutions, labor unions, and the electoral process have been under attack. The healthcare system has been further privatized, public housing has been demolished, public water and sanitation systems have been held hostage by emergency managers, and the social safety net has been eviscerated.

In these same years, core government functions have been turned over to the private sector and the free market. The result: levels of poverty and inequality in this country now outmatch the Gilded Age. All of this, in turn, laid the groundwork for the rapid spread of death and disease via the Covid-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on poor people and people of color.

When the coronavirus first became a national emergency, the Fed materialized $1.5 trillion dollars in loans to Wall Street, a form of corporate welfare that may never be paid back. In the following weeks, the Fed and a congressional bipartisan stimulus package funneled trillions more in bailouts to the largest corporations. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans were left out of that CARES Act: 48% of the workforce did not receive paid sick leave; 27 million uninsured people and 10% of the insured who couldn’t even afford a doctor’s visit have no guarantee of free or reasonably priced medical treatment; 11 million undocumented immigrants and their five million children will receive no emergency provisions; 2.3 million of the incarcerated have been left in the petri dish of prison; three million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients saw no increase in their benefits; and homeless assistance funds were targeted at only about 500,000 people, although eight to 11 million are homeless or housing insecure. Such omissions are guaranteed to prove debilitating, even potentially lethal, for many. They also represent cracks in a dam ready to break in a nation without a guaranteed living wage or universal healthcare as debt mounts, wages stagnate, and the pressures of ecological devastation and climate change intensify.

Recently, news reports have made it far clearer just where (and whom) Covid-19 is hitting hardest. In New York City, now the global epicenter of the pandemic, for instance, the areas with the highest rates of positive tests overlap almost exactly with neighborhoods where the most “essential workers” live — and you undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that most of them are poor or low-income ones, 79% of them black or Latino. The five zip codes with the most coronavirus cases have an average income of under $27,000; while, in the five zip codes with the least, the average income is $118,000.

Across the Black Belt of the southern states, the poor and black are dying from the coronavirus at an alarming rate. In many of those states, wages are tied to industries that rely on now interrupted regular household spending. They also have among the least resources and the most vehement anti-union and wage-suppression laws. That, in turn, leaves so many Americans all that more vulnerable to the Covid-19 crisis, the end of which is nowhere in sight. Chalk this up, among other things, to decades of divestment in public institutions and the entrenchment of extremist agendas in state legislatures. The Black Belt accounts for nine of the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid and for 60% of all rural hospital closures.

Nor are these the only places now feeling the consequences of hospitals being bought up or closed for private profit. In Philadelphia, for instance, Hahnemann Hospital, which had served that city’s poorest patients for more than 170 years, was recently bought and closed by a real-estate speculator who then attempted to extract a million dollars a month from the local government to reopen it. Now, as the coronavirus ravages Philadelphia, Hahnemann’s beds sit empty, reminiscent of the notorious shuttering of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In fact, lessons from the catastrophe of Katrina resonate heavily today, as the poor suffer and die while the rich and their political allies begin to circle the ruins, seeing opportunities to further enhance their power. After Katrina, many poor and black residents of New Orleans who had to evacuate were unable to return, while the city became a laboratory for a new onslaught of neoliberal reforms from health care to housing. One state legislator was overheard telling lobbyists, “We finally cleaned out public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” It hardly takes a stretch of the imagination to envision similar braggadocio in the post-coronavirus era.

Inescapably Bound Together

The dual crises of pandemic and inequality are revealing ever more clearly how the descent into poverty is helping to destroy American society from the inside out. In a remarkably brief span of time, these crises have also highlighted our collective interdependence.

One of my earliest memories is of helping my mom walk when I was younger than my youngest child is now. As we slid down the wintry streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my small hand in hers, she suddenly fell and I went down alongside her. I had been unable to keep us from crashing to the ground.

And yet, even when I couldn’t do what needed to be done alone, I recognized, with the clarity that perhaps only a child can have, how much we as a family (and, by extension, as a people) were inescapably bound together — that when one of us falls, so many of us fall. And that’s why, whatever Donald Trump or Jared Kushner or the rest of that crew in Washington and across the country may think, we can no longer tolerate leaving anybody out.

Hasn’t the time finally come to reject the false narrative of scarcity? Isn’t it time to demand a transformative moral agenda that reaches from the bottom up?

If the wealthy were to pay a relatively modest amount more in taxes and we shrank our war economy to support the common good, then universal health care, living wages, and a guaranteed income, decent and affordable housing, strong programs for the poor, and even more might finally be within reach. This crisis is offering us a striking demonstration of how an economy-oriented around the whims of the rich brings death and destruction in its wake.

A society organized around the needs of the poor, on the other hand, would improve life for all of us — and especially in this Covid-19 moment, exactly this might be possible.

Liz Theoharis is a theologian, ordained minister, and anti-poverty activist. Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, she is the author of Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor. She teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

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Corbett: Let Them Eat Ice Cream! (10 min)

Could this Coronavirus crisis be the end of these useless and vapid celebrities? I hope so. They really do not matter.
April 22, 2020
Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say “Let them eat cake” but you won’t believe who is saying “Let them eat ice cream.” Join James for this edition of #PropagandaWatch as he explores the latest fad among the celebrities and political puppets: Shaming poor people!

 

Reality of American capitalism exposed: Millions line up for food aid as pandemic spreads

“Capitalism is being exposed to a degree without precedent in modern history. Workers must draw the lessons. A system that funnels trillions to a handful of financial parasites while condemning millions to poverty and death must be swept aside.”

Source

http://www.wsws.org

April 13, 2020

“… in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”—John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, April 1939

***

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in the United States is revealing the consequences of decades of ruling-class policy, which have left the center of world capitalism completely unprepared for a significant health care emergency. At the same time, the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic is exposing the reality of widespread poverty and insecurity.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, breadlines became a symbol of social distress. Such scenes are reemerging in the form of massive line-ups for emergency food assistance in every state and community.

On Thursday, 6,000 cars lined up for five miles at a food bank drive-through in San Antonio, Texas. Some families arrived 12 hours early to ensure they received some aid. In Inglewood, California, south of Los Angeles, 5,000 cars lined up to receive food on Friday. Foodbank usage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has increased by 543 percent in recent days.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive-thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 [Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

Those who are lining up are not just the poorest workers, who typically rely on food banks in hard times, but also broader sections of the working class and middle- class families who have never had to rely on such aid in their lives.

“I’ve never had to go to a food pantry in my life,” Shanell Gray, a recently laid-off hotel worker, told the Columbus Dispatch at a food distribution in Ohio’s capital city this weekend. “This just went really fast. I was able to pay my rent for this month. May is the struggle.”

Nearly 17 million workers have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks, the highest number ever recorded. Even this figure, however, underestimates the scale of layoffs. Millions more are either ineligible for benefits or have been unable to apply due to overloaded websites and call centers.

The vast majority of the population has yet to receive any financial assistance. Just 10,000 people had received a direct deposit to their bank account as of Friday, and most states still have not established a means of sending out the $600 weekly increase in unemployment for four months.

While trillions have been handed over to the banks and gigantic corporations—with no requirement that they wait in lines—every obstacle is being put in place to prevent workers from getting anything and to cut off aid as soon as possible.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, son of the late arch-reactionary Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has done everything in his power to limit payments, including by excluding gig workers who use phone apps to find work and making it easier for companies to avoid paying sick and family leave.

“We want workers to have work, not to become dependent on the unemployment system,” Scalia declared in an article posted last week on Fox Business News. The comments mirrored Trump’s outraged response to the fact that “we’re paying people not to go to work.”

The consequences will be catastrophic. According to one survey, nearly three-quarters of all workers live paycheck to paycheck. Almost three in 10 American adults have no savings. With so many hanging on by their fingernails before the pandemic, the often-individual experience that one missed paycheck spells personal disaster has become a mass phenomenon.

Already, one-third of Americans missed paying rent in the first week of April, a figure that is sure to be higher in May as millions deplete their savings accounts to get by without a paycheck. If they are not immediately being evicted, due to a patchwork of local and state level moratoriums, then millions will eventually be thrown into the streets because they cannot afford to pay back the rent they will owe when workplaces reopen.

If the promised stimulus money does arrive from the federal government, it will count for little. The one-time $1,200 payment will not cover the cost of rent in most cases, let alone food and other essentials. The stopgap measures included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by Republicans and Democrats last month are woefully inadequate to meet social need.

While so many are hungry for food, the anarchy of the capitalist market has been exposed by the fact that farmers are destroying crops of staple foods as orders and prices fall. No measures have been taken to redistribute and process food for consumption even as stores struggle to keep up with demand for basic food items such as milk and eggs.

Instead eggs are smashed by the tens of thousands, countless tons of green beans mulched and plowed into fields, onions buried by the tens of thousands of pounds in trenches to rot. Five percent of the country’s milk supply has been dumped, and it could rise to ten percent with the continued closure of schools, restaurants and hotels.

The massive economic devastation that is unfolding will be exploited by the Trump administration to agitate for a return to work, creating conditions in which those who are unable to find work or refuse to endanger their lives are cut off from unemployment and other aid.

The working class, however, will have its say. Over the past several days, worried comments have begun to appear on the likelihood of mass social unrest.

Bloomberg editorial board member Andreas Kluth warned Saturday that the pandemic will lead to “social revolutions,” which the ruling elites must be prepared to confront.

Kluth explains that countless Americans simply do not have the option to stay home to avoid the coronavirus, putting them at risk of getting sick or infecting their families. He notes that the situation is even worse for the millions who live in slums in countries like South Africa and India, where social distancing is not an option, handwashing is impossible without running water and there are no emergency supplies of face masks.

“In this context, it would be naïve to think that, once this medical emergency is over, either individual countries or the world can carry on as before. Anger and bitterness will find new outlets… In time, these passions could become new populist or radical movements, intent on sweeping aside whatever ancien régime they define as the enemy.”

Capitalism is being exposed to a degree without precedent in modern history. Workers must draw the lessons. A system that funnels trillions to a handful of financial parasites while condemning millions to poverty and death must be swept aside.

Niles Niemuth

Canada: From pipe dream to prospect: the pandemic is making a case for a universal basic income

The Pope likes the idea. He’s not the only one.

A closed storefront boutique business in Toronto pleads for more federal pandemic help on April 16, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

As every schoolchild knows, it was the First World War that brought Canadian women into the workplace (though of course, they had always been working). Even after the men returned from the front, women continued to work — and what was a temporary change turned into a new societal norm.

The Great War left us with another supposedly temporary measure: income tax. “I have placed no time limit upon this measure,” said Finance Minister Sir Thomas White in 1917. “A year or two after the war is over, the measure should be reviewed.”

We all know how that turned out.

Like governments around the world, the Trudeau government has used the rhetoric of wartime to describe the fight against the novel coronavirus. Wars and pandemics sometimes bring with them economic measures that would be unthinkable in normal times.

For proponents of a universal basic income (or UBI), governments’ responses to the pandemic offer a moment of opportunity — and of vindication.

A way to buy time

“I think the coronavirus has exposed some of the problems with the economy that have led to this movement from the beginning, and it’s going to accelerate them,” said Floyd Marinescu, CEO of software learning company C4Media and a founder of the basic income lobby group UBI Works.

Marinescu said the pandemic is driving a new wave of industrial automation as companies try to function without workers.

“Six million Canadians have been suddenly thrust into what is effectively a basic income program and they’re seeing that it works for what it’s meant to do — something to fall back on and give you time to figure out what you’re going to do next in a way that’s more dignified and avoids the stigma and inefficiencies of applying for social assistance,” he said.

“I think now we have a chance with basic income to have a shorter recession and a more inclusive recovery that helps everyone adapt to the new reality.”

A papal blessing

On Tuesday, Pope Francis became the latest public figure to embrace the idea of a universal basic income, calling it a “change that can no longer be put off.”

In his annual “letter to popular movements” he addressed those “who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady income to get you through this hard time … the lockdowns are becoming unbearable.

“This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out.”

Pope Francis recently expressed support for the idea of a universal basic income. (Vatican Media via Reuters)

Already, one country that has suffered disproportionately from the pandemic appears to be headed in that direction.

Spain’s governing Socialist Workers Party has seized on the pandemic to make changes it normally could only dream of — including the public takeover of private hospitals.

Some of those measures might be reversed once the viral threat fades. But Finance Minister and Deputy PM Nadia Calvino said her government sees its new UBI program, the ingreso mínimal vital, as something “that stays forever, that becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument.”

Here in North America, the idea of a universal basic income was the driving force behind the surprisingly strong campaign of political outsider Andrew Yang for the Democratic presidential nomination.

His proposal that the U.S. government send monthly cheques (he called them “freedom dividends”) to all or most American adults has, because of the pandemic, temporarily become official government policy.

Andrew Yang🧢🇺🇸

@AndrewYang

Wow. Pope Francis today: “This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage.” Game-changing. 🙏.@pontifex https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2020/04/12/pope-just-proposed-universal-basic-income-united-states-ready-it 

The pope just proposed a universal basic income. Is the United States ready for it?

“This may be the time,” he said, “to consider a universal basic wage.” This points unmistakably to what is usually known as universal basic income—a regular, substantial cash payment to people just…

americamagazine.org

7,299 people are talking about this

Yang proposed $1,000 cheques. This week, the U.S. Treasury delivered $1,200 cheques to millions of Americans — although the rollout was hampered by glitches and by Treasury’s move to put President Donald J. Trump’s signature on every cheque.

Same solution, different problem

Yang’s proposal, of course, had nothing to do with disease and everything to do with the decline of America’s manufacturing base. For years, the main argument for UBI has been that automation will only accelerate the disappearance of solid blue-collar jobs and their replacement with low-wage jobs that don’t provide the stability necessary to raise a healthy family, or create a healthy society.

The anger and fear that loss of stability produces (so the argument goes) leads people to turn away from democracy and embrace demagogues — so it’s in everyone’s interests to keep people from slipping into desperation.

The idea had been slowly gaining support in some quarters for years. Then COVID-19 hit, wiping out in mere weeks more jobs than had been lost to years of automation and outsourcing.

Businessman Andrew Yang became one of the leading proponents of UBI policy during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

“What seems to some to be marginal or overambitious is going to become common sense pretty quickly,” Yang predicted, just weeks after ending his own presidential campaign.

But the U.S. proposal is only one temporary measure in a vast pandemic relief program that’s also laden with the usual lard for millionaires and billionaires — including particularly generous handouts for wealthy real estate investors with backgrounds remarkably similar to those of the president himself and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) that has become Ottawa’s main non-EI support for people hurt by the pandemic resembles a UBI in some respects. It’s designed to catch people who work in the “gig economy,” so it covers many who would be missed by conventional EI.

CERB is not really universal, however, and it’s set to run for only four months. The hope is that, by the time the program ends, the country will have returned to business as usual, more or less.

A ‘business-friendly’ approach to income supports

But Canada has its own advocates for a permanent UBI.

When the incoming Doug Ford government decided to cancel a UBI pilot project in Ontario in late 2018, Marinescu helped to organize a group of 120 CEOs, presidents and owners of Canadian companies to ask him to reconsider.

“We see a guaranteed basic income as a business-friendly approach to address the increasing financial precarity of our citizens and revitalize the economy,” they wrote in a letter to the premier. Their effort was not successful and the pilot program was killed.

The pandemic, however, has given the idea wings. It has the support of one party on Parliament Hill:

Jagmeet Singh

@theJagmeetSingh

Applications open today for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit

See link for more info:https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application.html 

However, too many people are still left out

That’s why New Democrats will keep fighting for a Universal Basic Income – so EVERYONE can get the help they need

310 people are talking about this

Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal is a long-time proponent of UBI. He even write a book about it: Boot Straps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada.

Queen’s University economist Robin Boadway said that nearly all existing benefits and tax credits in Canada are means-tested. “These are things that go out on the basis of what your reported income has been in the last year,” he said.

A switch to UBI, he said, would require a fundamental shift in approach.

“I think there are good chances that people will see the value of universality when it comes to transfers, but the transition from an existing emergency program to a permanent program that’s funded is one that would take a bit of time, I think,” he said.

An incentive to work

The Trudeau government has insisted on means-testing rather than true universality in its its pandemic relief programs and has made a series of tweaks to them, progressively loosening the entry criteria. But the Alberta Liberal Party has embraced UBI and has called on its federal counterpart to immediately begin payments of $1,500 per month to every Canadian adult and $500 per month for every child.

UBI has its opponents, though. Many on the left object to the fact that UBI money goes to rich and poor alike, while those on the right frequently attack it as a handout for people who don’t wish to work.

Marinescu argues that a UBI would provide more incentive to work than some of the Trudeau government’s current pandemic benefits.

The CERB, he said, is “kind of like a scaled-up welfare with the same welfare traps. In some ways, it pays people not to work, or forces them to choose between going back to work or staying another month or two on the CERB.

“And that’s precisely what basic income is meant to address — it’s a work incentive because you get to keep the money when you go back to work.”

Marinescu said the experience of past pilot projects has shown that labour force participation doesn’t decline when a UBI is introduced — and that some people have been able to find better jobs with the help of a UBI “because they were able to get off the hamster wheel and retrain.”

“No other government program that I’ve seen could touch the efficacy of a basic income to give people more options in life.”

Overhauling the safety net

Marinescu said he hopes the current crisis will change the minds of many who dismissed UBI as a transfer of wealth from the hard-working to the lazy. “A lot of people who are now finding themselves on a basic income are realizing, ‘I don’t want to work any less. I want to go back to work’,” he said

But Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, said he thinks “we’ll have to wait and see whether this really changes the social safety net we have in place.

“If we were to go that route, I think we’d really have to revamp the way we deliver the social safety net federally and provincially. And I’m not sure we’re ready to move on that just yet.”

A rider for a food delivery service makes a delivery. The growth of the so-called ‘gig economy’ bolstered the case for UBI. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Antunes said that, prior to the pandemic, some of the labour trends that drove the UBI movement — the rise in precarious “gig” jobs, for example — were easing or even reversing themselves.

“We’re coming out of a situation over the last couple of years where Canada’s economy and labour markets were in pretty good shape and favouring the workers. In 2019, employment growth was strong, labour markets were very tight and wage growth well above inflation,” he said.

Attitudes may shift

Just as the First War produced the income tax, the Second World War left Canada with the basic structure of its modern health care system.

There were those who wanted to see it dismantled with the return of peace, the Canadian Public Health Journal warned in an editorial at the time, saying demands had “already gone out for curtailment of public expenditures and redirection of effort.” The CPHJ wasn’t having it.

“Gains must be consolidated. The last war left its lessons. There can be no reduction in public expenditures, and no lessening of public effort, for the safeguarding of health,” the journal wrote.

The nature of the post-COVID recovery is likely to affect the debate over UBI.

A strong rebound would lessen the pressure to strengthen the safety net. But it might prove politically difficult to push large numbers of people off the basic income scheme if the economy remains weak after the epidemic recedes.

“Once this crisis is over,” said Antunes, “I think it’s inevitable we’re going to return to that trend where labour markets are generally tight because of the exodus of the baby boom cohort, so I don’t know that we’ll have to have these measures in place forever.”

But millions of working people who are used to seeing themselves as independent are now experiencing hardship and turning to governments for help. Will that change how they view others in need in the future?

“Public attitudes may well change as a consequence of this pandemic and there may be more social acceptance,” said Boadway. “It’s possible the thing will catch on, and people will realize that if a universal basic income had existed before the pandemic hit, we wouldn’t have been faced with as dire a situation as is being faced by so many people without money.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.