Are robots killing the American Dream?

I'm paraphrasing, but that was the core of the question plaguing Andy Stern, the former president of one of the most influential unions in the country, the Service Employees International Union.

"Technology has helped our economy become more efficient and productive," Stern writes in his new book, "Raising the Floor," "but in the process, it has led to the decoupling of employers and employees — the foundational relationship of middle-class opportunity and the American Dream."


Image via Chi/Donahoe/Vimeo.

With the robots coming, Stern felt he had lost his ability to predict the future of labor — what to do next?

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in things like Fight for $15 anymore. It was just, well, the writing was on the wall. With three-fourths of workers in the country already living paycheck to paycheck and an estimated 47% of jobs expected to be replaced by automation in the next few decades, what was the point in fighting the same battles when every victory just led to another hill to climb?

So after years of soul searching, he came to believe something crazy: We should just pay everyone $1,000 a month.

Yeahbutwhat?!

$1,000 a month for everyone. Bear with me now.

Andy Stern, among the robots in a machine shop, with his new book. Image via Chi/Donahue/Vimeo.

It might seem crazy on the surface, but this idea is called a universal basic income (UBI), and it's actually been around for a while with support from conservatives, progressives, liberals, and libertarians alike.

Thomas Paine wrote about it; Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in it; even Richard Nixon tried to pass it into law when he was president. Many venture capitalists like it, too, because it encourages consumer options, which creates more competition.

"UBI is rooted in the belief that every human being should have at least the basic means to choose the life they want for themselves and their families," Stern writes. And that's hard to disagree with.

Think of it like this: Unemployment can lead to poverty, which can lead to other kinds of societal problems.

So why not treat the root cause instead of just the symptoms?

Photo by Ed Yourden/Flickr.

But of course, now you're asking: How would we pay for giving everyone $1,000 a month?

In his book, Stern suggests seven different options of funding UBI.

One of the ideas is to replace some or most of our existing welfare and social assistance programs with a basic income. That could save us a trillion bucks right there! (And given the choice between signing up for an array of social programs or just having $1,000 bucks a month to freely spend on things you need, I think most people would pick the latter option.)

8 million coins were dumped in a public square in Switzerland during a rally to support that country's referendum for UBI in 2013. Photo by Generation Grundeinkommen/Flickr.

But wouldn't this idea get bogged down in a huge political fight?

Maybe, but the nice thing about UBI is that it empowers people to make their own choices by giving them just enough money that they don't need to be caught in that endless cycle of poor decision-making just to survive. That tends to appeal to the political left.

It also frees up the rest of society from the time spent trying to legislate morality and life choices and just lets people do what they want. And that tends to appeal to people on the political right who prefer a smaller government.

Money. Not everyone has it, but we could change that. Photo by 401(K) 2012/Flickr.

But won't giving out "free money" encourage laziness or substance abuse?

Actually, previous experiments along these lines have proven that wrong.

In fact, UBI recipients ended up investing more time, money, and energy into education and entrepreneurship, and their overall happiness vastly improved.

Granted, they did work a little less — 5% to 7% fewer hours on average. But less time doesn't mean less productivity, and they were obviously able to use that time to accomplish greater things that actually contributed to the their own betterment and that of the society around them.

Photo by keep_bitcoin_real/Flickr.

And if you think that this weird hybrid libertarian-socialist utopia could never actually work, guess what? It already has.

Previous social experiments with UBI have occurred in places like Germany, Finland, Namibia, and Canada — all with resounding success. There's a new, longer-term UBI project coming up in Kenya, too.

And that's the thing: There are obviously a lot of details to figure out about how exactly a universal basic income would work, especially in a place like the United States. After all, what looks good on paper doesn't always work in real life. But sometimes the best thing to do is to just give it a shot and fix the kinks as you go along.

A Swiss pamphlet explaining a federal UBI initiative from 2013. Photo by Stan Jourdan/Flickr.

That's why Stern, the former union president, is now working toward implementing a universal basic income in the United States.

In his book, Stern chronicles the journey that lead him to his new campaign for UBI. He shares the conversations that he had over the years with engineers, investors, business leaders, laborers, and other thinkers and innovators all across the political spectrum about the future of American economy.

And despite their surface differences, every conversation pointed toward the same inevitable conclusion: a universal basic income for everyone.

"The freedom to choose the life that you want for yourself and for your family," Stern writes. "That's the new American Dream. And UBI can help all Americans to achieve it."

Still not sold on this radical notion of basic income? Here's a video with Stern talking about why our country needs to raise the floor to lift each other up.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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