Doesn’t a de facto version already exist? There are about 3.5 million fast food employees in the US, there are a million and a half American Walmart employees (so maybe a million clerks), there are over 6 million entertainment attendants (e.g. ticket takers, etc.), well over a million cashiers in the retail sector outside of these, and so on. The point is not that these are jobs anyone can have to get themselves rich, but the point is that these are jobs almost anyone could secure at any time with almost no or little training or “skill” to speak of. This observation covers many people who are variously not born lucky physically or mentally as well. My local McDonalds is always hiring, and they pay $10.25 an hour for entry level jobs. At full-time this is over $20,000 per year, and it includes benefits, training, career mobility and a community of people to interact with.
My point is not that it is easy for someone to transition to these jobs in the family labor supply sense – there are issues of child care, parent-care, transportation, and such, that make labor supply decisions more complicated (though a vast many people are able to navigate these challenges, especially if family structure is intact), the point is that it is certainly “easy” to find employment that pays considerably more than any level of UBI could ever promise to pay. If one reason to support a UBI is to enable people to take risks and to have peace of mind about their uncertain futures, then why is an annual $8,000-$10,000 cash grant via UBI much more attractive than a $20,000 per year job with upside? Or even if someone works part-time at McDonalds, that is $10,000 per year, plus all of the time to get additional education, take entrepreneurial risks, and so on? One reason people support the UBI is something like, “people can live together and share it.” Well, if multiple adults all live together working at McDonalds, that is a good amount of income too, and all of that without burdening taxpayers or the potential negative incentives of cash grants – leaving a heck of a lot more resources available to fund basic research, maintain infrastructure, expand health-care access, and so on.
Just think about it. If things REALLY went into the crapper for my wife and I, we could each very easily secure a job at McDonalds or Walmart, earning a combined $40,000. We could easily rent a smaller place than we live in today and be comfortable, we could send our kids to the “free” public school, we would easily qualify for ACA subsidies, we could shop more intelligently, and we could keep our current cars for a little while longer. No, we wouldn’t be taking weeklong ski vacations or securing cottages in Maine, but we’d live pretty similarly to how we live today. Knowing that this option is always out there for us is a very fine insurance policy, and surely influences the way we are currently living.
I think it is high time to raise the status of “crappy low-wage” jobs.