The Non-So-Invisible Infection


City Hall Park, a common meeting place for unhoused individuals.

Burlington City Hall is placed beside Church Street, a common gathering place for the city’s homeless population. The homeless are often deeper in debt than the rich are in wealth.

Uh oh, an economy piece. Guess this means my secret stock market losses are about to be un-secret-ized.

If I asked total strangers how the economy is doing, they’d probably say it’s in shambles, then ask why I like rhetorical questions. According to Gallup Inc, four of five Americans think 2023 will be rough economically. According to NABE, they’re likely right. Fifty-eight percent of economists surveyed in Feb. predicted odds of a recession in the next year are equal to a coin flip. 

No one wants to be a deer in down arrow headlights. But in 2012, the Homelessness Resource Network linked loss of job or income to just 22 percent of homelessness. Eviction was only responsible for 10 percent. Drugs, issues with the prison system, divorce, domestic issues, mental and physical illness, and other uncontrollable factors caused two-thirds of homelessness. 

What’s scarier than a broken economy? Answer: the folks sleeping in tents in twenty below weather had no way around losing their homes. The system is infected. Some believe Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the cure. Spoiler alert: I am not one of them.

UBI, if implemented, would pay every adult American one thousand dollars a month. The Vermont poverty line for one-person families is $14,580. The idea is to make default income just under the poverty line, with no hidden small text. Even with spiked rent in Burlington, twelve thousand dollars is enough to cover the winter months. Should a black cat cross someone’s path, they wouldn’t have to stress for shelter. 

Paying for life holds obvious and not so obvious benefits. Over time, paying rich and poor alike would diminish economic inequality. Physical and mental health would improve. Terrible jobs wouldn’t have such a grip on penniless workers because they wouldn’t be penniless! 

Those are just the obvious ones. UBI is Welfare 2.0, so the government could sell the old hardware to pay for the upgrade. Rates of volunteer work would go up, and more non-profit organizations would be made. 

Higher education would be more accessible, giving the economy a boost, especially in this college town. With extra time on their hands, graduates would be more inclined to open Burlington businesses. In Feb., I unfortunately adventured my way into a 15 dollar bill for a THORN+ROOTS smoothie. Better competition means better prices, which means more smoothies for me. 

This idea wouldn’t destroy American capitalism; it would bandage the holes in our sinking ship. And with UBI to fund emergency savings, economic shock wouldn’t be so shocking.

With all that said… I can’t support Universal Basic Income.

UBI is just that: a bandage. A really expensive bandage. Our infected system fails Americans. It leaves them drug-addicted, leaves them with gargantuan student loans in their lives’ most important decades, and leaves them mentally ill while belittling them for it. Spending 4 trillion dollars a year paying people won’t fix these core problems. What will fix them is targeted, intelligent spending. 

If the Department of Education invested 4 trillion dollars into a better K-12 program, college wouldn’t be necessary. If careers started at eighteen, the economy would roar. The change would pay for itself. And for a democratic approach, the money could be split between American schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 98,577 public schools in 2021. That’s $40,577,416 per school.

Imagine how 4 trillion dollars could help addicts, recovering or still under. Free therapy facilities could open in 50 states. Such massive money could even match the most complex thing ever—the human brain. Research into mental health and psychology would lead a new age of learning, and breakthroughs into how minds work would improve views on mental illness.

On top of everything else, UBI is doomed to destroy itself. If Americans had higher income, taxes and costs of goods and services would rise. Employers would see guaranteed income as an opportunity to pay people less. Workers may use it as an excuse to not contribute to society. UBI isn’t sustainable long term, and even if it was, it would damage the economy in the long run. It’s no shock the fourth stimulus check didn’t swing around. It wasn’t affordable or healthy.

Shelter pods, small houses for those suffering from homelessness.
Shelter pods in Burlington’s Old North End.

With or without UBI, the Burlington government is doing all it can. By investing $1.5 million in shelter pods at the Old North End, City Hall is facing the issue head on. Maybe next winter, no Vermonter will have to tent alone on a snowy night.