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If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to make a compelling case for a universal basic income as one of the options to help families deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, she should turn to Detroit to make her case.

The city’s economic biography reads like a treatise on the need for a basic income, an idea long championed by those who feel our government hasn't gone far enough to care for our nation's poor.

After all, the city is the largest, poorest city in the nation, with a poverty rate of roughly 36.4% according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With a median household income of less than $30,000 per year, Detroit is the most economically stressed city in the nation, according to a 2019 WalletHub study.  

And COVID-19 has only made life more difficult in Michigan, where more than a million residents have filed for unemployment. 

Jeff Donofrio, the director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, told me that as of April 18, an estimated 75,000 Detroiters made jobless by the virus have filed for unemployment claims with the state. 

A basic income could help reduce the burden of inequality for Detroiters who are currently being ravaged by the pandemic. 

“The majority of Americans are living with economic insecurity," says Jason Burke Murphy, a UBI expert and a professor of philosophy and ethics at Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts. "A basic income of $2,000 a month requires about 6% of the GDP. This goes to people who are still working and to people who are staying home. There are very few proposals that would improve lives in Detroit more than a basic income. Other proposals that sound good will end up going through governments and corporations that routinely skip cities and black communities. Increasing the average income of Detroit by $2,000 per person will create opportunities where we haven't seen them in a long time.

Jerome Barney, a prominent Detroit attorney agrees and wants Congress to consider $3,000 per person instead. 

“$3,000 guaranteed basic income to 26 million unemployed will provide a stimulus to the economy,” Barney said. “If they can subsidize corporate America with billions of dollars, we should absolutely be providing income for everybody who has lost their job as a result of the virus. We should be in line with every other civilized western nation.” 

Barney added, “This is something that is going to significantly help Detroit because the city has been underserved for so long. I came up in the Mayor Coleman Young era and I saw what Detroit was like. It is critical now to support those who are facing difficulties. They are not getting rich off $3,000 a month, and it is not going to break the bank.”

Wanda Hammoud, a national board chair for One Fair Wage, the movement to increase minimum wage in the state sees the basic income debate as an impetus to their push for a livable wage.  

“If you can give the most impoverished people a basic income to spend in their communities, it will lift everybody up. That is one way of addressing poverty” Hammoud said. “We know for certain that trickle-down economics does not work. The billionaires and millionaires have been unsuccessful in trickling their wealth to the most poorest districts in the nation.” 

Pelosi should hold a virtual congressional hearing in Detroit to begin this debate.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.

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