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guaranteed income

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Guaranteed income is an umbrella term for a number of models designed to deliver funds to a given population. Some models are needs-based and/or require willingness to work, while others require only citizenship for eligibility.

The essential goal of guaranteed income programs is eliminating or reducing poverty, while also ensuring greater equality in access to resources and opportunities. The systems could also replace government programs such as welfare, employment insurance, pension plans, disability benefits and tax credits, eliminating the administrative costs associated with operating multiple different systems.

Increasingly, guaranteed income programs are being considered as one potential way to alleviate the situation of workers displaced by automation. In a potential not-too-distant future scenario sometimes referred to as the robot economy, a great deal of human labor could be replaced by physical robots and AI (artificial intelligence)-enhanced software. According to Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, researchers from Oxford University, 47 percent of current jobs within the United States could be automated within the next 20 years.

The two main types of guaranteed income programs are guaranteed minimum income (GMI) and universal basic income (UBI) systems. Guaranteed minimum income, also known as minimum income or basic income guarantee (BIG), is a supplemental model that provides varying amounts of additional funding to any earnings of low-income citizens, based on demonstrated need.

In the universal basic income (UBI) model, all citizens receive the same payment, regardless of income, resources or employment status; the tax system ensures that funds are returned from those above a specific income level. One of the main benefits of the universal model is the simplicity of its structure and the low overhead involved with its implementation and operation.

A third model, negative income tax (NIT) is based on individual tax returns. Those reporting an income below the program's threshold amount when filing would receive a supplement based on the discrepancy rather than paying taxes.

This was last updated in June 2017

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