Talia Avakian
September 05, 2017

As fears of technology leading to job automation grow, Hawaii is becoming the first state in the U.S. to introduce a universal basic income (UBI) as a reality.

A UBI ensures that everyone is able to receive a steady stream of income, regardless of their employment and economic status, and is one that is supported by the likes of Richard Branson and Elon Musk.

State representative Chris Lee introduced a bill earlier this year that calls for every family in Hawaii to be ensured basic financial security as new research has shown the state could begin seeing automation in several of its job sectors that include the transportation, food, tourism, retail, and medical industries. 

“Hawaii’s heavy reliance on a service-based economy makes it more susceptible to economic disruption and job loss than any other states, and work must begin now to address the rapid automation, innovation, and globalization that already is beginning to displace significant amounts of local jobs, resulting in worsening income equality,” the bill reads.

The move would allow those seeking job retraining or working part-time to maintain a basic standard of living, state legislators said in the bill, as automation continues to create concern for the future of careers. 

Though officials have yet to determine who will pay for the program, they will be meeting in the fall to further analyze the effects of automation on social services and whether it is best to introduce a partial or full universal basic income.

The move won't be a cheap one, though. Tom Yamachika, president of the nonprofit Tax Foundation of Hawaii, told CBS that it would cost an estimated $10 billion a year for the maneuver if Hawaii residents were given an annual allotment of $10,000.

Related: Hawaiian Hotels Are Giving Away Free Eco-friendly Sunscreen to Save the Reefs

The idea of a UBI  is slowly starting to take hold in locations around the world. Finland launched a UBI experiment earlier this year, giving 2,000 Finnish residents that are selected at random a total of 560 euros (roughly $667) a month, while Germany introduced a similar program to give around 85 people payments of 1,000 euros (roughly $1,191) a year, according to Phys.org.

Similarly, trials for UBI programs are currently underway through a program in Kenya that provides at least 6,000 Kenyans with basic income for 10 to 15 years, and new trials are starting in Ontario and on Prince Edward Island.

Meanwhile, concerns over job automation have led a San Francisco city supervisor, Jane Kim, to push for a statewide robot tax, according to the Associated Press. Kim has launched a statewide campaign to bring revenue-raising ideas to both voters and state legislators.

A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that nine percent of jobs in America (about 13 million) could become automated, bringing all the more attention to UBI as an option to consider. 

When it comes to what the next steps will be in Hawaii, lawmakers say the introduction of a UBI could be a long process.

“Basic income is such a broad subject, it could encompass hundreds of different kinds of mechanisms to help families,” Lee told CBS. “You don’t have to enact the entire thing in one massive program; you can take bits and pieces that make sense,” he added.

Hawaiian officials will be meeting this fall to discuss what the endeavor would look like for the state.

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