It’s a widely felt fact: Everything costs more these days. Trying to afford the basics is more and more of a challenge, prompting people to explore some pretty bad, no-good options out of desperation, including relocating away from expensive areas to more affordable spots. The growing sense of income inequity and a lack of a safety net has given a boost to the debate around universal basic income (UBI), sometimes called “guaranteed income.”
What is universal basic income?
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With UBI, every citizen in a specific area (a county, city, or country) receives a set amount of money as income. While different programs will have different specific requirements or structures, generally speaking, this income is paid out without strings—the recipients can use it as they like. As you might imagine, the concept isn’t without controversy. But it’s also easy to see how it can benefit people: When you’re stable and employed, it simply makes life easier. If you lose your job or are unable to work (due to a medical emergency, for example), a UBI might allow you to stay housed and keep your family fed until you can work things out. If you’re looking for a more affordable place to live or are simply open to the idea of relocating, you might want to consider moving to places that offer UBI in some form. The extra safety net could be the key factor in surviving a setback in your life.
One thing to keep in mind is that most UBI programs are considered pilots or experiments—city or county officials get them funded for a set period in order to collect data and see if they truly work. So even if you hear about a program in a specific area, you have to check to see how long it runs. And many UBI programs are restricted to specific populations, usually pegged to income levels. Some programs are aimed at vulnerable populations, such as the unhoused or the newly-pregnant. You’ll have to do some research to ensure that you’ll be eligible for any UBI program before you factor it into a decision to move.
The UBI program in Alaska
Believe it or not, the U.S. state that has been running something very much like UBI for more than 40 years is Alaska. It established the Permanent Fund in 1983, paying out oil income dividends to each resident of the state on an annual basis. The amount of money isn’t huge—the 2023 dividend was $1,312, although the dividend in 2022 was $3,284. The amount of the payment is tied to the amount of oil Alaska sells and the price of oil throughout the year, so it varies a lot. The “basic” part of a universal basic income is supposed to cover your basic needs like shelter and food, so the Permanent Fund might not qualify as a true UBI—but that’s still more than $100 every month.
Finding other UBIs
Finding information about where UBI programs are currently being run takes some work. There are a few resources you can use to find out where UBI programs are happening and whether you can qualify for them if you move:
Until guaranteed income programs become permanent, you won’t be able to rely on them long-term. But if you’re thinking of moving to a lower-cost area anyway, choosing one that currently offers some kind of UBI safety net can make life a little bit more secure once you get there.