In the early months of the COVID-19 crisis, more than 1,200 economists from around the world urged governments in an open letter to deploy an emergency universal basic income (UBI), a weekly or monthly no-strings-attached, government-funded family payout to counter what appeared to be an impending economic catastrophe. The economists were especially concerned about societies with large informal-sector workforces where “beyond earnings, there is next to no safety net.” As lockdowns were initiated and national economies seized up, many governments indeed turned to a UBI or UBI-like strategies to keep food on the table and people in their homes.
The United States experimented with a number of UBI-adjacent initiatives as it grappled with its economic shutdown. Unemployment benefits were extended and fattened, and the Paycheck Protection Program allowed idled workers to stay on company payrolls for months while they waited for the green light to return to work. The expanded child tax credit and three rounds of “stimulus” checks kept families and, not coincidentally, the economy afloat as the crisis wore on.
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