When I first opened my eco gift shop, Reworks, in Calgary, in 2011, I really just wanted a job that made me feel like I was making a positive difference in the world. I wanted to operate a successful retail store while also reducing waste. Creative problem solving is my passion, and making treasure from trash presented me with the perfect problems to solve. Consumers loved the innovative merchandise and often visited just to find inspiration. I hosted school groups and conducted workshops. I even heard a customer say “this shop is like a real life Pinterest!” Those first few years were glorious, as each year my business grew a little more. I had a couple of part-time employees and I was able to expand my product line.
Then a recession hit in 2014.
Running a small business like this isn’t as easy as you might think. To start with, the term ‘small’ isn’t very accurate. ‘Micro’ would be a better way to describe it. Challenges for micro businesses are huge, despite the fact that businesses like mine make up the majority of economic activity in Canada. We contribute thousands of jobs, and we are more involved in our communities than ‘big box’ businesses. We also spend our earnings locally. That’s a direct cash infusion into our own neighbourhoods.
"A basic income would go a long way to helping micro business owners stay afloat."
But micro businesses, like mine, have a harder time hiring employees and drawing in talent because of our lack of exposure. We do not have the same customer reach as larger companies. It’s harder for us to qualify for financial support. And we work harder because we have to do so many different tasks that could be done by multiple employees in a larger operation. Marketing is also harder because we operate with less capital. And yet, we are capable of generating significant incomes. These micro businesses aren’t just hobbies. But, when times are tough, they are really tough. A basic income would go a long way to helping micro business owners stay afloat.
From my own personal experience, I have identified these major reasons we should have a basic income.
Innovation and Risk
I started my business because of my passion for reducing waste and pollution. I think most business owners start their business because of a passion, and out of that passion, innovation grows. As a society we must value innovation, as we will all benefit from it. For example, my whole community benefits from my innovative approach to solving ecological problems. My business is directly providing value to my community, because of innovation.
But innovation comes with costs and risks. Entrepreneurs are taking big risks when they leave stable jobs to start innovative enterprises. I went from a $60,000 a year job to making just over $30,000. That’s just above the poverty line. It’s very challenging to make effective investments in your business when you are just barely keeping food on the table and a roof over your head. A basic income would ensure that my basic needs were covered. Then, I could focus on building a sustainable business.
"There are many of us that want to be employed at certain jobs for the pure passion of it, but we don’t make enough income to take the job. That means a lot of jobs go undone."
Another benefit generated by a basic income is employment. A business can’t expand unless it can hire employees to help spread the work around. Maintaining employees is a major expense, and often micro businesses can only afford to hire part-time staff or pay minimum wages. Many micro businesses can’t afford extra staff at all. A basic income could be an excellent supplement, making it possible to hire part-time staff or give access to qualified employees that would otherwise not be affordable. There are many of us that want to be employed at certain jobs for the pure passion of it, but we don’t make enough income to take the job. That means a lot of jobs go undone. That’s work that never gets completed, but, if it was, we would benefit from it.
This benefit applies to vendors too. They also need to make a living. I stock my shop with all sorts of creative recycled products made by entrepreneurial makers. In fact, my shop wouldn’t be the inspirational hotspot that it is without them. But, they are taking risks too. A basic income would mean they can continue to focus on their innovative work too, which provides fuel for my business.
Reducing Crime and Social Unrest
Finally, basic income means less crime and social unrest. Too often, poverty is criminalized, and micro-business owners are put into positions where they have to wear the hats of - or draw on the expertise of - social workers, police officers and security guards just to make it through the day.
Safety is a major problem for a small business owner. We are often working alone and can’t afford security. Vandalism can be a problem, as can other forms of crime. At my shop in Victoria Park, I experienced daily problems that cost me hundreds of dollars in lost revenue and expenses, and overwhelming stress. I actually feared for my own safety and had to lock my front door on numerous occasions - which makes it hard to be open for business.
Reducing poverty would help make sure everyone has access to food, shelter and healthcare. It would reduce the strain on the system, as well as on businesses like mine that are frequently on the front lines of social unrest, despite our lack of qualifications to help.
"Ultimately, a basic income is our money - all our money. And when we have money, as individuals, we spend it - and many of us spend it locally."
Spurring the Local Economy
There is a misconception that a basic income is just giving away free money to lazy people. The reality is that the majority of people experiencing poverty and homelessness actually have jobs, but simply do not make enough to afford anything beyond the basic necessities - and sometimes, not even those. But they are paying taxes just like the rest of us.
We’re familiar with governments bailing out big businesses. But when that happens, there often isn’t a significant local impact. Lower income people are more likely to spend their money locally, whereas higher income people often don’t - because of their greater access to the global economy.
Ultimately, a basic income is our money - all our money. And when we have money, as individuals, we spend it - and many of us spend it locally. Basic income could enable more of us to find fulfilling work and contribute more to our communities. We would be directly supporting a circular economy. Keeping people out of poverty means we have more time and resources to focus on other major societal issues, like climate change and building a sustainable life. For me, I could focus on finding even more long term solutions to our waste problems. I am not opposed to taxes. I am opposed to how those dollars are distributed. Taxes are our investment in our own society. We elect leaders to equitably distribute them. A basic income would be a great way to do this. We should be using our tax dollars to start distributing a universal basic income today.
- Solita Work