Job or Universal Basic Income?

Canada is in the midst of an unplanned and massive universal basic income experiment. We are spending $24 billion (and counting) to provide basic monthly income via direct payments to Canadians. This effectively means Canadians are not working in their jobs, but are getting paid by the government to stay home. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is the catalyst for this and I fully agree that staying home right now is the right thing to do. There will be future debates about government’s actions during this crisis and more importantly, how we are going to pay for them. There will also be debate about universal basic income with voices touting the pros and cons. One thing is certain: having a guaranteed monthly income has caused people to stay home, even when they had an option to work.

article continues below

An aspect often forgotten when discussing universal basic income is the importance of the job itself.

The late Ronald Reagan famously said “The best social program is a job.” I realize this statement is overly simplistic, since not every person is always capable of working. But the basic premise is still correct for most people, most of the time. Why is that?

The most obvious purpose of a job is to provide income. But a job provides far more than that. A job teaches work ethic, useful for many aspects of life. A job provides routine, meaning and purpose. A job offers challenges and causes growth. A job provides important social connections along with physical and/or mental exercise.

People who lose their job experience grief, uncertainty and self-doubt. Not having a job causes people to feel like they aren’t productive, like they are falling behind their friends and lacking purpose in life. Not having a job can exacerbate mental health problems which can lead to depression, alcohol and drug abuse and even suicide.

I am not in favour of universal basic income. Businesses and charities are struggling to find workers. Government programs should be matching Canadians with available jobs, not just providing billions in aid.