Immigration, Jobs, and Welfare: How Do The U.S. and Europe differ?

Should wealthy countries give recent immigrants welfare or jobs?

Europe and the United States have long had almost exactly opposing policies on work and welfare for immigrants.  The United States has let immigrants work but tried to deny them welfare benefits; IngressbildeEuropeans, on the other hand, have distributed benefits but kept jobs for their native populations.

Even within Europe, Scandinavian countries have been unusually generous with benefits.  But is this model now under strain?  Have Europe’s generous benefits led to a backlash against immigration, even to mass attacks of neo-Nazis such as the 2011 killings in Norway?

In its last cosponsored event of the spring semester, IGS welcomes the perfect person to discuss these issues: Grete Brochmann, chair of the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo and former chair of the Norwegian Welfare and Migration Committee.

“Immigration and Integration in the Nordic Countries”
A talk by Grete Brochmann
Friday, April 25
2 pm
Mandel Center Reading Room (3rd floor)

12 Replies to “Immigration, Jobs, and Welfare: How Do The U.S. and Europe differ?”

  1. The Nordic Model under the welfare state is extremely compelling, and differs vastly from that of the United States. In Scandinavia, immigrants happily receive generous benefits and numerous opportunities for public involvement. The concept of “homogeneity” or “conformity” is both promising and harmful. A system of homogeneity and conformity, the Nordic model provides economic benefits in the hope of achieving social equality. With that, immigrants find that integration into these countries can be rather easy, as legal residency is the only requirement for accessing the Scandinavian income system. In a negative way, however, this system may create a caste of “outsiders” among those immigrants from the Global South who cannot adapt to Swedish culture. Conformity creates pressure to adapt for these immigrants. Yet despite its controversy, this economic and social Model is unlike any other in its ability to generate economic equality. This “war on classes” should be adopted within US economic and social policy.

    1. Michael, thanks for this. I thought it was a very interesting talk and wonder: could lessons from a small, ethnically homogenous state be applied to the US, with its huge population and great diversity?

      1. I think that certain aspects of the Nordic Model under the welfare state can be applied to countries as large as the United States. However, although such a model may be able to possibly alleviate the process of immigrants assimilating to American culture, in terms of generating economic equality, such a goal may be impossible. Economic equality is a highly debated topic among economists in the United States and an agreeable solution is very difficult to find. Much of the debate revolves around the tax system, a topic that conservatives and liberals will never agree on. Personally, I believe that generating economic equality is far to great a task in our country to be fixed simply by applying the Nordic Model.

  2. I thought the talk was extremely fascinating. It was interesting to identify the asymmetry between the United States and the countries of Scandinavia. There are low barriers to attain employment in the United States because you can get a job with minimal qualifications, but there high barriers for welfare. Whereas, in Sweden, Denmark and Norway there are high barriers to receive employment, yet low barriers for welfare benefits. I do believe that lessons from these small, ethnically homogenous states can be applied to the United States on some level. Although the States does have a large population that includes tremendous diversity, the US is often called a “melting pot” because there is already a melting of cultures and intermarriage. Americanization has created a sort of conformity among all American citizens.

  3. I definitely went into this conversation with Ms. Grete Brochmann with absolutely limited information in regards to Scandinavia and especially their governmental procedures dealing with immigration, welfare, and their labor force. On top of that, I would have never expected to learn of the similarities between the United States and Scandinavia on how they govern the entrance of immigrants. In my opinion, it seems as though welfare is not as stigmatized in Scandinavia as it in in the United States but I do favor how the United States has more strenuous welfare requirements and regulations. Also, I believe that the process of letting in immigrants should be less bias in both the United States and Scandinavia in regards to how the U.S. is not as strict with certain immigrants over others.

  4. This talk was very eye-opening, as I did not know much about the situation at hand previously. Learning about the issues surrounding Scandinavia’s limitations on employment and ease of attaining welfare was extremely interesting. It can be, as Ms. Grete Brochmann noted, problematic to maintain these certain regulations that Scandinavia does which I did not know. It’s interesting to note how different the United States handles employment and welfare benefits compared to that of Scandinavia, since they’re pretty different. The issue of immigration that which Grete talked about is very controversial, and requires a lot of thought. I believe that immigration policies should be, among a long list of other concepts, based on economic opportunities that can result. These opportunities could potentially benefit both the people and the country as a whole in terms of the economy.

  5. I think wealthy nations should offer recent immigrants both welfare as well as jobs, but jobs firstly. An important difference between European economies and the U.S. economy is that Europe nations like France operate as welfare states. However, there are major costs associated with doing so. Everything becomes so much more expensive. As an example, a $0.99 bottle of Coca Cola here in the U.S. costs over €2.50 in France. Part of the reason costs are so high is because of the taxes the government requires in order to be able to continue maintaining a wellfare state. That added financial burden then gets passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, rents, and so on. Why not reduce the wellfare burden by offering less benefits, but opening the door to allowing immigrants to work and contribute and to pay their own way? It is not healthy to create an environment where immigrants are allowed to be free-riders….and I bet they (the immigrants) don’t like that either. People like to live productive, meaningful lives. By creating a system where they have to rely on the government for subsistence, the state deprives them of autonomy or true liberty, and simply increases pressure on its own budget.

    1. Jayati, I really like the suggestion to loosen the labor market and let immigrants work: I brought up that point at the end of the lecture. The problem seems to be that Scandinavians their social welfare state has two key elements — generous benefits but also high wages in highly-unionized businesses. Like you, I think that their going to have to open more employment at lower wages, but we’ll see if they actually do it.

  6. Brochmann’s lecture was very interesting and informative for me since I was not aware of the immigration policies of the Scandinavian countries. What struck me, as the article mentions, was how contrasting the policies are when compared to the United States. Brochmann spoke about the emphasis on equality that the Scandinavian nations follow. This is why they provide welfare to all their citizens, including new immigrants. The United States, one can argue, also has this emphasis. The difference is that the US believes in equal job opportunity as opposed to equal welfare while in Scandinavia the opposite is true. In terms of effective integration, I feel that the US has been more successful. Still, I feel that it should also adopt the policy of welfare for all. This way, the ideal of equality is truly met. If one is actively participating in the work force, or at least trying to, they should deserve the benefits, too. However, given the views of many Americans on welfare, I do not think this change will happen any time soon.

  7. I was very fascinated by Ms. Brochmann’s lecture and was able to learn a lot of information from it that I did not previously know. What stood out to me was that equality was chosen over freedom in Scandinavia. Because of this, high quality was a distinction of the Swedish welfare state and the
    Nordic welfare model called for universal access, generous benefits, high degree of public involvement, high level of redistribution, strong unions and a regulated labor market. Integration and homogeneity are linked, meaning even newcomers are entitled from day one to welfare benefits and new, legally accepted inhabitants must be treated as equals. I feel that one of the reasons for this is that demand for cheap labor in Scandinavia is very high, and practicing equality would attract immigrants from around the globe to come work in Scandinavia. However, this comes at a price, as the immigrants are accepting the benefits but neglecting their own culture simultaneously.

  8. I am glad that Ms. Brochmann came and spoke about the differences between the Nordic countries and the United States in regards to immigration, jobs, and welfare. Before this talk, I was not familiar with the system abroad. I think it’s important to realize the different motives people have when migrating to Nordic countries in contrast to people migrating to the United States. Immigrants in the Nordic countries usually move to the wealthier nations in order to receive benefits from the affluent region, whereas immigrants in the United States come here for job opportunities and to contribute to the work force. This major distinction highlights the difference in the people’s motives; thus, the countries way of responding, whether in welfare benefits or through providing jobs, underlines the countries’ political, economic, and social objectives. Perhaps integrating immigrants in the Scandinavian countries has led to their backlash due to the overwhelming benefits they provide. A means to consider is having immigrants apply for status in the country while working and providing for the country. Therefore, both the country and the newcomer have a share in the matter and it’s a fair deal.

  9. Wealthy countries should focus on giving recent immigrants more readily available access to the job market, as opposed to showering them with welfare. Considering the Scandinavian case in particular, giving recent immigrants welfare and keeping the workforce exclusive for the native population is inherently short-sighted and susceptible to future conflicts, given the amount of tension the unequal distribution creates beneath the surface.

    Cultural conflicts have been connected to welfare state sustainability and the integration of immigrants. Even as recent as May 24, 2013, there was a riot in Stokholm’s poorer suburbs, where a majority of residents are immigrants. Discrimination of immigrants and racism have been traced as the cause in a country where 14% of its people are foreign born. The riots make more explicit the long-time failure of society to integrate immigrants. Perhaps this failure to integrate immigrants corresponds to Scandinavia’s generous pouring out of benefits onto its immigrant population. Benefits should be earned as opposed to simply granted – it needs to be a two-way flow of labor and welfare, wherein the amount of labor you invest into the country’s economy is appreciated and compensated by the country in the form of benefits. But this instance of give-and-take is not the case in Scandinavia’s treatment of its immigrant groups. And the more Scandinavia withholds jobs against its immigrants, the more severe anti-immigrant sentiments become among native groups.

    In her paper, “Controlling Immigration,” Grete Brochmann brings up the split question of “Is the welfare state too kind to immigrants – or not kind enough?” I think this situation just about sums of the Scandinavian case. I’d like to think that Scandinavia’s compensation of welfare to its immigrants is short-sighted in its approach to the immigrant question. Dishing out benefits while saving positions in the workforce for the native population creates such a tension between immigrants and natives. In order for immigrant integration to become something of a reality, Scandinavia has to realize that keeping the workforce exclusive is, in and of itself, a passive way of telling immigrants that they aren’t wanted here. Scandinavia has to make immigrants and natives alike feel like they’ve earned their benefits – and in so doing, make both groups identify as a collective labor force, as opposed to one group having access to free benefits that they don’t deserve.

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