Assured income reduces economic insecurity by guaranteeing that every individual has some form of income or resources in every period of life.
The Study Panel takes a mix of inspiration and cues from the 1934 Committee on Economic Security and the ensuing New Deal legislation, as well as the 2020 legislative relief bills that were intended to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic recession. The former was proactive. It came on the heels of the Great Depression but was forward looking in its reach; it reduced labor market risk through regulation and provided benefits to individuals who could not work. The latter was reactive. It was in response to a specific risk—the pandemic—and how that risk was affecting individuals. Its composition reflected that many existing programs were effective at meeting some need, but also that the overall range of needs was larger than what those programs were designed to address.
In addressing economic insecurity, the solution is not a single policy but a portfolio of policies. These policies reflect an overarching goal—get income to households—but not a single means of doing so. This diverse approach in turn reflects that the sources of economic insecurity are not simple or even the same for different individuals and families.
The Panel’s portfolio consists of four components—four “pillars” of economic security. The first two comprise the primary channels of getting households income and how to increase that income:
- Labor policy – The active regulation of the labor market, including the promotion of work and return to work
- Benefit policy – The taxing and spending by the federal government that results in money or resources transferred to households through explicit transfer programs, social insurance systems, or tax expenditures
The second two components are smaller in scale but more ambitious in scope, in that they address threats to income:
- Protection policy – Policies that protect against fluctuations in income and expenses promoting savings, reducing debt, accessing credit, and regulating key financial actors including banks, other lenders, landlords, and state and local governments
- Equity policy – Policies that address the severe inequities among demographic groups
A comprehensive approach to economic security must support each pillar to be successful. While the labor market is the most important source of income generation, not everyone is able to work, and some workers will have needs that wage income is unable to fulfill. Benefit policy might assure income, but it should not replace wage income for those who are able to work. The effectiveness of either labor income or benefit income at maintaining economic security might itself be reduced without ensuring key protections for that income. And no policy, whether new or renewing, should ignore that—whether measuring wages, income, assets, savings, or debt—there are some groups that are worse off than others. Most important, labor, benefit, protection, and equity are not substitutes but complements. They support but do not supplant each other.
Within each component, there are different approaches to a given policy. Some are competing options, but most are complementary.
The report henceforth is broken down into five sections: one covering each of the four pillars of economic security and a fifth and final section on how to best raise tax revenue to support increased federal spending. Each section contains a policy options table before a deeper dive into policy details and concrete options to improve economic security.
← → This symbol appears throughout the policy options tables in cases where a policy fits well under multiple pillars. Most policies have options that cut across pillars, so we constrain the use of this symbol to reference the “policy” portion of the table, in the left-most column. The details of a given policy and its options will only appear in one section. “Reform Unemployment Insurance,” for example, appears in the Labor and Benefit Policy Option tables, but its corresponding details appear only in the benefit section.