Social Welfare in Europe

August 2010 • Volume 4, Issue 8
Can EU nations still afford expensive welfare programs?
By Sarah Glazer


Immigrants in Bologna, Italy (Iguana Press/Getty Images/Roberto Serra)
Wearing the colors of the so-called Yellow Revolution, immigrants in Bologna, Italy, strike on March 1, 2010, for better treatment. Cuts in welfare benefits could target Europe's immigrants, who already are seen as not fully sharing in Europe's vaunted upward mobility. (Iguana Press/Getty Images/Roberto Serra)

The Euro debt crisis and calls for fiscal austerity are putting a harsh new light on Europe's gold-plated welfare and pension programs. According to some economists, Europeans pay for their generous welfare programs — such as national health insurance and universal preschool — with more sluggish economies and higher unemployment than in the United States, which has among the industrialized world's least generous welfare safety nets. But in recent years, Scandinavian countries, the most generous with subsidized child care and paid parental leave, have grown at least as fast as the free-market United States. And, contrary to popular opinion, workers there have a better chance than Americans of climbing further up the economic ladder than their parents. Now Greece, Spain, France and Portugal have all proposed welfare austerity measures — mainly delaying early retirement ages and freezing pensions — not cutting core programs like free child care or unemployment safety nets. Cutbacks in pensions have already spurred angry street protests, but most experts agree Europe has little choice as it faces a demographic time bomb of aging societies supported by a diminishing number of workers.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Aug. 2010  Social Welfare in Europe
Aug. 03, 2001  Welfare Reform
Dec. 06, 1996  Welfare, Work and the States
Sep. 16, 1994  Welfare Experiments
Apr. 10, 1992  Welfare Reform
Oct. 10, 1986  Working on Welfare
Mar. 09, 1984  Social Welfare Under Reagan
Apr. 17, 1981  European Welfare States Under Attack
Dec. 09, 1977  Welfare in America and Europe
Nov. 21, 1975  Future of Welfare
Dec. 20, 1967  Welfare Reform
Jun. 08, 1966  Guaranteed Income Plan
Oct. 04, 1961  Public Welfare Policy
Mar. 09, 1954  Worker Welfare Funds
Jul. 20, 1950  Welfare State
May 07, 1947  Union Welfare Funds
Jan. 10, 1940  Expansion of the Food-Stamp Plan
Retirement, Pensions, and Social Security