A Guaranteed Income for Young Adults and a Child Allowance for Parenting Young People

Young adults are making important contributions in their communities. They are attending college, pursuing vocational training, contributing to local economies, caring for young children, and participating in the democratic process. Young adults should have the resources they need to thrive, and to support their contributions to their families and communities in the ways they know are best. When young people have the resources they need, they are able to comfortably pay their bills, pursue their education, and make choices that allow them to enjoy life while feeling secure in their financial future. Financial security provides young people a solid foundation from  which to set goals, build healthy lives, and thrive.

But many young adults have trouble meeting basic needs, as earnings are typically low in this stage of life and many face systemic barriers and discrimination that exclude them from crucial resources and supports. Compared to previous generations, young adults today live in a world with heightened instability, lower social mobility, and greater economic inequality.

Despite the overwhelming need, social and economic supports have traditionally left young adults out, based on the false assumption that all young people have families with resources to fall back on. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a program that helps lift people out of poverty by boosting the income of low-wage workers, yet a youth will not be eligible for the EITC until the age of 25, unless he or she has a dependent child. Programs that do provide support to young people too often perpetuate the racial disparities already pervasive in society. For example, state flexibility, and the underpinning racial bias in public assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have meant that individuals who are younger, and Black and Latinx/e families, are sanctioned at higher rates than their peers who are older and White, resulting in a loss or reduction of critical benefits.

As a CARES Ambassador in Atlanta explains, “sometimes the restrictions [around programs] are just unrealistic …they require you to do all these things. But how are we supposed to do those things? …It’s just not feasible, or [requirements] are not realistic or kind of contradict each other… they require you to do all these things.… I feel like, I see that a lot, a lot of contradictions.”

It is time for a guaranteed income for young adults to promote their well-being and set them up for success. A guaranteed minimum income provides cash directly to individuals, trusting them to use it in the ways that will best support them without the complexity and administrative barriers that too often limit access to other economic supports. A guaranteed income would be particularly beneficial for young adults—providing economic security and stability as they explore new opportunities and experiences, and transition between work, education, and other responsibilities.

In addition to a guaranteed income for young adults, we must provide new economic supports to those who are parenting and raising the next generation. Many young parents are living paycheck to paycheck, knowing that one unexpected expense could leave them unable to pay their bills, put food on the table, or cover rent. Under difficult circumstances, they are working to create stimulating and enriching environments for their children yet have limited meaningful supports. This is because the United States lacks the foundational family supports that are commonplace in other wealthy countries—including paid family leave, comprehensive child care, and a child allowance.

Paired with a guaranteed income for young adults, a child allowance has the potential to provide the foundational support parenting young people need to provide for their children, without the burdens associated with existing supports. A child allowance, like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) which was temporarily expanded in 2021, would be available to all families who need it. And by limiting administrative barriers, it begins to lift some of the burdens many young parents experience in accessing benefits, while providing resources that they can use to chart their own paths.

Both a guaranteed income for young people and an additional child allowance for those raising children should be designed so that they:

  • PROVIDE A MEANINGFUL AMOUNT. The level for each benefit, set nationally, should be adequate when combined with other supports, to allow young adults and their families to meet their basic needs. Based on conversations with families about the expanded CTC (mentioned previously), we know that while parents appreciated the additional support, at $250 or $300 per month depending on the age of the child, most recommended a higher per-child benefit each month to ensure their families were economically secure. We believe both a guaranteed income and a child allowance should be more than $300, and in the case of the child allowance, this benefit should be available per child to meet the needs of families as they grow. Receipt of either benefit should not impact a young person’s eligibility for other benefits (e.g., Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, financial aid).
  • ARE AUTOMATIC. To the extent possible, each benefit should be easily accessible by being paid automatically. If this is not possible, it should be easy to sign up for the benefit, with the ability to contact a person when there are difficulties or barriers.
  • ARE CONSISTENT AND PREDICTABLE. Each benefit should be delivered through frequent regular payments, at least monthly, that young adults and their families can rely on into the future, so that they can plan and pursue their goals.

Read the full policy agenda, A Policy Agenda for a Nation that CARES for Young Adults, here.