Does Yang’s Universal Basic Income make sense in New York City?

Andrew Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” is an attempt to curtail the economic consequences of automation.

Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang surrounded by supporters.

Presidential hopeful Andrew Yang surrounded by supporters. Photo by Nanette Konig

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand may have been the two most recognizable Empire State candidates on the Democratic primary debate stages this week, but they’re not the only ones. Andrew Yang, the Schenectady-born entrepreneur who has built a political reputation staked almost entirely on a promise to give all Americans $1,000 per month, took the national stage – sans necktie. “This is the move that we have to make particularly as technology is automating away millions of American jobs,” Yang said of his plan at Thursday’s debate.

Yang’s universal basic income – or “Freedom Dividend” as he calls it – is an attempt to curtail the economic consequences of automation. “It’s fantastic that a presidential candidate is making this a key part of his agenda,” Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the New York City think tank Center for an Urban Future, wrote in an email. “Automation and AI are going to affect hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country in the next decade, and our policymakers absolutely ought to be talking about this and taking steps to prepare people for a more automated economy.” Research from the Center for an Urban Future has found that New York City is less susceptible to automation than the nation as a whole, but more than 10% of jobs in the city – about 454,000 positions – could be done mostly by machines, including jobs like bookkeeping and food prep. Only about 7,000 of those jobs are fully automatable, the research points out, but the rest will be fundamentally transformed and require more technological fluency. 

And while Bowles praises Yang for bringing the issue of automation to the forefront, he says the “freedom dividend” may not be the best course of action. “I'm not sold on the idea of universal basic income,” Bowles said. “There's no question we are going to need a new safety net for this new economy, but I'd prioritize a massive federal investment in upskilling, lifelong learning and other efforts to help people in the workforce.”

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