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Is universal income the future?

Job applications and information for the Gap Factory

Job applications and information for the Gap Factory Store sit on a table during a job fair at Dolphin Mall in Miami, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Photo Credit: AP

As the global economy replaces human labor with automated processes, universal income is an option that will need to be explored.

Earlier this month, Ontario, Canada unveiled a small pilot program to test basic income. Starting in three locations around the province, the program will randomly select 4,000 residents to receive supplemental income for three years form a pool of candidates already receiving welfare benefits from the province.

The additional income will be tacked on top of benefits like childcare tax credits and drug assistance programs. Individuals will be eligible for up to $17,000 CAD (roughly $12,000), while couples could receive up to $24,000 CAD (about $17,500). The existing welfare system offers an average yearly benefit of $12,000 CAD.

Universal income will be an increasingly important topic for the billions of workers predicted to lose their jobs to automation throughout this century. A report released in January by the McKinsey Global Institute, a private-sector think tank, concluded that 60 million full-time jobs in the United States — and 1.1 billion jobs worldwide — are already at risk of becoming automated using current technology. McKinsey estimates that half of the jobs that exist today could be completely automated by 2035.

Basic-income advocates argue that not only does providing a predictable cash flow empower individuals to seek out higher education, such programs would also be easier to administer because they would replace overlapping benefits with a single cash payout.

Another Canadian province, Manitoba, ran a similar five-year experiment with basic income back in the mid-1970s. An analysis in 2011 by economist Evelyn Forget found that during the basic income test the rate of health issues — both physical and mental — were drastically reduced, and poverty was effectively eliminated in the town of Dauphin.

While the new pilot in Ontario is a limited basic income system, some groups are actually arguing for unconditional basic income — or UBI, which would grant you money simply for being a breathing human being.. Everyone would receive a check at the beginning of each month as a failsafe against an ever-changing global market. One author, Scott Santens, who founded the Economic Security Project, likened basic income to seat belts saying “is it wasteful to put seat belts in every car instead of only in the cars of those who have gotten into accidents thus demonstrating their need for seat belts?”

If predictions are correct, UBI is a bold step that will need to be taken to ensure all Americans are protected, at least at the basic levels. The idea of UBI isn’t even new for the United States, as Thomas Paine and some of his supporters advocated that providing even a small amount of assistance to citizens would “give them the power to say no.” Basic income isn’t a welfare system, or isn’t just a welfare system, it’s a safety net for those who fall into the worst situations.

It’s time for the U.S. to test the same kind of limited basic income programs that other nations across the globe have trying. We pride ourselves on being the best in the world, but 14.5 percent of our country lives in poverty and it will only get worse from here. Ontario’s pilot program will serve as the best indicator for what a U.S. basic income program would look like, as Canada’s welfare system is very similar to our own.

Whichever way you frame it, a growing population and greater income gaps are leading us towards basic income requirements. Empowering our citizens should be the number one goal for all politicians, and it’s time to see if basic income will be the answer.

Jager Robinson is an intern for Newsday Opinion.