So I’ve shown that it’s relatively doable to provide a modest BIG that goes to about 72 million people who belong to households in the two bottom income quintiles. Now let me sing the praises of such a BIG. My BIG won’t be so generous to incentivize long periods of unemployment. Plus, you can still work and receive a full BIG until your household hits $20,000 in annual income and a partial BIG until you hit $40,000. I imagine that the vast majority of BIG recipients will work at least part-time. BIG will work especially well with the “on-demand” economy, where people choose to work as they need to and when they want to.
But as young adults get older and start thinking about career advancement and earning enough for mortgages and nest eggs, they will be more than motivated than embrace the work ethic – which is pretty much how it is now. A lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings already work only occasionally or part-time, often because their priorities are elsewhere (school, creative projects, fun, adventure). Eventually, they buckle down for a few decades to do what they must. This life trajectory isn’t likely to change with BIG. What will change, for the better, will be the standard of living for the young and minimally skilled.
Parents will be in a better position to take time off from work, or work just part-time, when their kids are really young. Not all parents would take advantage of this option but it’s still very nice to have, especially for young unskilled parents, where even one full-time employed partner may not earn enough to put the household above the bottom quintile.
A BIG could also strengthen committed relationships. Since poverty destabilizes relationships, the additional income could help poor couples stay together. Yes, there would be some disincentive to combine households through marriage (potentially pushing up household income to a disqualifying level) but most people by their 30s will earn too much to qualify for BIG anyway and at that point the marriage penalty disappears.
The BIG would also make it easier to leave dysfunctional relationships. Abused women in particular would have another source of income to help them move out and start over.
BIG would be great for students, who could still work part-time to help meet those steep tuition bills. (Note: Part-time employment is not a risk factor for dropping out of college).
And if you become suddenly unemployed, no need to apply for unemployment compensation, which BIG will replace. Sure, BIG isn't as generous as unemployment and people who were high earners will receive a lot less than under the current system. But at least BIG is guaranteed and predictable. And, again, there will be forms of means-tested assistance available, like food stamps.
Sure, some people will never get on the work wagon, or will only sporadically do so. Just like today. At least they will be guaranteed some income, without having to put on a show to prove they’re unable to work or are looking for work. And since their BIG won’t be jeopardized by occasional work (up to at least $20,000 a year per household), they will be less tempted to make a few extra bucks through the informal, untaxed economy (i.e., under the table or criminal) – but will take “real” jobs as they are able and so choose.