Some call it a “basic income.” Others call it a “guaranteed minimum income.” Whatever you call it, the idea of providing direct cash payments to citizens has come in and out of vogue for at least 60 years in the United States.

In recent years, however, driven by declining job security and the stagnant pay of middle-class jobs, universal income proposals have gained renewed attention. They are inspired by a collection of notions that setting an income floor will reduce poverty, improve economic security, cushion job loss, increase bargaining power for low-wage workers, stimulate entrepreneurship, and decrease government wastefulness.

This paper examines the history of universal income ideas and evaluates some of the most prominent debates about universal income.

View a supplementary chart of various non-labor income models.