The Political Economy of Guaranteed Income: Where Do We Go From Here?

This paper is the fourth and final in a series on “Getting to Guaranteed Income,” analyzing the research to date on practical questions related to guaranteed income policy design at the federal level in the US. Download PDF ›


In the years 2019 to 2022, guaranteed income policies have grown in popularity and public awareness globally. A central question of this paper is whether and how support for cash policy in the United States can sustain beyond the pandemic.

Advocates stand at a crossroads: the past two years highlighted various forms of cash policy and saw the emergence of over 60 guaranteed income pilot initiatives across the U.S., but polling suggests that despite widespread pilot efforts, grassroots organizing for cash policy is limited and public narratives linking public benefits to work persist, despite polls showing significant support for cash policy.

A shift to permanent guaranteed income policy will likely require not only narrative work and message testing in public opinion polls, but more active advocacy campaigns driven by long term grassroots organizing. In addition, some versions of a guaranteed income have proven more sustainable or viable in the post-pandemic economy of continued low and middle-class precarity and dramatic inequality. This paper points not only to ways to build a sustainable majority of support for guaranteed income, but also what lessons emerge from other movements that reflect ways to build grassroots support and to wield adequate political power and capital to change public narrative and policy. We discuss the importance of effective framing as key to advocates’ efforts to extend cash policy beyond crises, as part of efforts for a more robust safety net. We also discuss what lessons emerge from movements that managed to change policy even without fully transforming popular narratives. In sum, while past white papers in this series have explained some of the practical questions involved in “getting to guaranteed income,” this paper instead focuses on operationalizing the recommendations of the previous papers, suggesting ways to navigate the complex political and public spheres at this turning point for guaranteed income policy.

The paper is co-authored by JFI’s experts in guaranteed income research and policy communications, Stephen Nuez and Halah Ahmad, respectively, with a contribution from Saru Jayaraman, Executive Director of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

This paper captures a key moment in the quickly evolving movement for cash policy, with a retrospective on the past few years’ acceleration in cash policy legislation and public debate, and an analysis of the opportunities and challenges for guaranteed income to become national policy in the years to come.