Is Work the Only Thing that Pays? The Guaranteed Income and Other Alternative Anti-Poverty Policies in Historical Perspective

Kornbluh, Felicia | January 1, 2009

This paper examines the historical alternatives to welfare reform, namely the guaranteed income. This is, in a sense, the simplest possible approach to poverty, in that it proposes that each adult citizen receive a basic adequate income from a combination of market and state resources; if someone is not earning a wage, then she or he receives substantial support from the government and, in the case of a low wage, receives a smaller supplemental grant. The paper explores the meaning and history of the idea of a minimum income for all U.S. Citizens and argues that it was an object of serious discussion by intellectuals, advocates, and government officials during the Johnson and Nixon years. It also explores the reasons for its emergence, and both the strengths and weaknesses of the idea as it came into being. The article concludes the most successful solution to the problem of poverty in the early twenty-first century is likely to be a combination of “making work pay,” a family-based strategy, and a functioning support system of basic income for those who earn very little or nothing.