IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT SWEDEN?

4 01 2009

LLLLLLLLLLLLLL

Some time ago I had the good fortune to meet on the Internet an actual citizen of Sweden. Since the place has always fascinated me (Thank you, Ingmar Bergman!), I peppered him with questions about it. I mainly asked about its social welfare protections.

Here are his answers. I am presenting them verbatim, with just a bit of  boldfacing of Swedish terms, etc., for clarity of presentation:

A SWEDE TELLS ALL

“I got a bit paralyzed with all your listings, but decided to “start somewhere’”. Such a comparison I also find interesting, here in Sweden we have a general bad impression about the social system in US, can be interesting to find out how much of that is prejudice….

MEDICAL

Medical aid in Sweden, is not free, but we pay mostly a symbolic sum of money. For instance an operation to remove the appendix (not personal experience, asked a friend) costs nothing at all for the operation, but we will have to pay a little sum when you come in, and a little sum for the room you take up after operation and food. Even a poor person in Sweden would have no problem Getting through that, around 70 – 100 dollars if you don’t need to spend more then 2 days in the hospital, my friend says.

If you need medical aid for a long time we have högkostnadsskydd (attempted translation: ‘high cost protection’). If your medical aid costs more then about $120 dollars, that’s all you would need to pay, the state pays anything above that. This is for the year. Next year its another $120 etc. This includes medicine, if in need of large amounts over a year.

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

When a person loses his job we have something called A-kassa (not sure how to translate, A-cash or A-fund, the “A” stands for the Swedish word for unemployed anyway, so “U-fund” perhaps then in English). You have to have been working steadily and paid the ‘A-kassa’ for 1 year to get it.

What you get: 80 percent of your wages (but with a roof a little less then 100 dollars a day), after 201 days you get 70 percent. After 300 days you only get “A-kassa” if you have a child or children aged less then 18.

[That’s almost a year of high-level unemployment payments, folks, over a year and a half if you have kids! – Nightman1]

If you were paying into “A-kass”’ less then a year, you still get a base amount of MAX 45 dollars a day. Of course you have to consider what things costs before valuing the amount. Having high taxes here in Sweden [Yes, folks, your editor reports the bad as well as the good! – Nightman1] means everything costs more. One LITER of milk is a little more then one dollar, a loaf of bread is 2.8 dollars etc. Gasoline costs so much more that a visiting American would get nightmares (or so I have heard) 😉

After that its welfare. I’m not to sure about the rules here, but in principle you have to do things to get it, enroll in some kind of educating program, search for job, go through medical examination. We do not have food stamps (Don’t know how that works in USA, but if you have to go to a shop and use food stamps, that seems to me immoral. Why should someone have to “advertise” their problems and poverty??), but we get one sum of money each month from welfare that should cover the costs, and the rent is added on top of that basic sum of money.

If you are long term sick, we have försäkringskassan (social insurance office), which gives you the same amount of money as if you were old and on pension. There is no problem to survive on that, and its clearly more then welfare. It easily covers all basic needs and still have enough to buy things that are secondary to survival.
We also have bostadsbidrag (housing allowance). If you fulfill the required demands to get it, it pays most of your rent, and you get more or less depending on your rent. There is a roof, when you pass the roof (too expensive apartment) you do not lose it, but you get only aid up to the roof level, as if.

WORK, EDUCATION, AMENITIES

Your new questions:

1) In Sweden we have by law 5 weeks 100% paid vacation every year, I don’t know how it is in other countries in Europe [Nightman’s Note: I believe every major European country has such a law. I know France and Germany do—both providing 6 weeks’ vacation, I believe.]

2) Higher education is free in the sense that you don’t pay the university or higher schools any money, but you still need a loan to cover food, rent and books. Some take part time jobs while studying. If you are the poorest of the poor you still can take a ‘study loan’, no problem. To my experience you can in some cases even get the whole education for free (including rent, food, books) while being on welfare, but I don’t know how or why, so that’s a vague footnote.

3) We have homeless people here in Sweden but I am not sure why, cause we have a proper social security structure that shouldn’t allow it. Maybe people who gets involved with drugs? No idea…
I have a friend who has been on welfare for more then 10 years, I don’t know to be honest if they can have welfare indefinitely, but what should we do, let them live on the streets? I think that is beyond Swedish mentality. He has been forced into some “educational” programs from time to time. Long ago he also had some stray jobs… To be on welfare is a stressful and depressing situation also in Sweden.

4) English is a natural second language to many here in Sweden and I love English. I Have cultivated my elementary school English by reading hundreds of books by now, and when I write down thoughts I mostly use English.
Thanks for the compliment!

(I think I forgot to mention one thing in the last PM, here in Sweden people cannot get fired just like that, we have strong unions. To kick someone they will need a really good reason. This also goes for hiring people, they can’t just hire anyone they want, anyway they want. Everyone is supposed to have a chance on the available job.)

Cheers!”

AND NOW, BACK TO OUR SPONSOR!

Thank you daSpinoza!

As one born in poverty, who has spent much of his life “one paycheck from homelessness”, and who has chronic health problems, I would love to have lived under the Swedish regime.

And, no, folks, Sweden is not a Socialist dictatorship. It’s a functioning democracy. It’s also economically successful. (Check it out. Wikipedia is your friend.)

My commentary on the above appears below.

THIS AMERICAN’S ANALYSIS

In Sweden:

For me, the most striking aspects of the Swedish way of life are:

Essentially free health care for all people!

Generous payments PLUS housing allowances for the long-term sick and disabled;

Generous unemployment compensation lasting about a year;

Protection against arbitrary dismissal from a job (Here the usual statement of the common-law rule  on employment is that an employee may be fired “for any reason or no reason.”),

A STATUTORY right to those wonderful long vacations;

FREE higher education; and

Generous welfare — again, PLUS a housing allowance, so you don’t have to find yourself and your children “entitled to welfare but homeless”, as so frequently happens in the USofA (because welfare payments are often too low to cover rent here.)

In addition, I’ve read of other countries in Europe providing a statutory right to at least 8 months of PAID maternity leave, and state-subsidized good-quality day care for when mom has at last to go back to work. They probably have those in Sweden too and my informant forgot to mention them because he’s not a parent.

Versus Here:

In the USA, by contrast, in the way of help for the unemployed we only have, for all people, food stamps and a maximum of 6 months or less of LOW unemployment compensation, depending on the state you’re in. (And these days the wretched employers often challenge the payment of the unemployment and win, on the basis that the employee was actually fired for good cause.)

And food stamps are a joke. I was on Social Security disability for 5 years, and even for a certifiedly disabled person like me there was only $650 per month disability payments plus — get this! — $125 month in food stamps. That food stamp figure was the MAXIMUM entitlement for a single person. If your income was more than my paltry $650 per month they would reduce the food stamps pro rata.

Oh yes, the food stamp entitlements had not been increased for many years–ten or twelve, I think — despite inflation –, until President Obama had them increased as part of his stimulus package.

Beyond those things, in the USA there is nothing for needy adults but welfare, and welfare is only for custodial parents of minor children. And it is time-limited to a maximum that varies from state to state but I believe amounts in most states to 5 years of welfare in your whole lifetime. Don’t be a broke adult without kids in the USofA, folks! If you become one, you’re headed for the streets!

Further, though we have Medicaid for some of the poor, it is again only for the certifiedly disabled and for parents of children, in most states. Beyond that, Medicaid is actually of little value, because it pays so little to doctors that many of them won’t take Medicaid patients at all.

I know all of the above facts about our “safety net” from direct, personal experience. I got through my disability period without becoming homeless only because I owned my home outright. (I had once made a good salary and saved most of it and then bought a modest house.)


__________________________________________________________________________________________

UPDATE 5-02-09.

For a look at life in another Scandinavian country, Finland, click here:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0501/p09s02-coop.html

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

_________________________________________________________________________________________

UPDATE 6-10-10

PARENTAL LEAVE IN SWEDEN

SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html?scp=2&sq=Sweden&st=cse


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17 responses

5 01 2009
MagiMysteryTour

It’s not the color of their eyes or hair or their complexions that make the Scandinavians superior. It’s their mentality.
Most of them speak, and especially write, better English than the average American. And behind that they have their own private language that most of us do not understand. As well as knowing at least one or two other languages in addition.
http://www.singsnap.com/snap/r/bec2375f

8 01 2009
tsjoencinema

It’s true, yes.

The scandinavian model

25 01 2009
danishdude

This is why Mormons are superior to Evangelicals. Mormons are Scandinavian and Evangelicals are not. Mormons are superior to Lutherans because they also have some non Scandinavian ancestry. I think a person who is Scandinavian with a little mix of something else usually has very good genes. That is a Mormon. With all the conversions to Mormonism, however, that may be changing.

8 09 2009
25 11 2009
Annika

In addition, I’ve read of other countries in Europe providing a statutory right to at least 6 months PAID maternity leave, and state-subsidized good-quality day care for when mom has at last to go back to work. They probably have those in Sweden too and my informant forgot to mention them because he’s not a parent.

OK, this is a late comment, but being swedish myself I could chime in here.
Actually Sweden provides 480 days (roughly 16 months) paid parental leave for one child (more for twins, triplets etc.) The amount paid equals roughly 80 % of the salary. If there are two guardians they are alotted 240 days each by default, but all but 60 days are transferable to the other parent. In other words the couple can decide to divide the parental leave as they please from 2 months for one of them and 14 for the other to the other way around. (They can not both be on leave at the same time, though.)

Day care/pre-school in Sweden is heavily subsidized and the cost is set based on the wages of the parents. There is a maximum fee per family which is also based on the household’s earnings. Pre-schooling is free but voluntary for four and five-year-olds for 15 hours per week. The same goes for six-year-olds, but they can have more than 15 hours weekly for free.

25 11 2009
nightman1

Thank you Annika.

This very issue has come up, tangentially, in my life recently. A woman at work whom I like very much -- as a friend only; She's bother younger and taller than me -- just left her cubicle for her statutory 6 weeks of UNPAID maternity leave last Friday.

I can only try to imagine what it will feel like to leave her little 6-week-old daughter and come back to work when this pathetic leave benefit that America at last vouchsafed its people about 8 years ago expires for her.

Since I know how things go in the US, I can say with confidence that it will be at least 5 to 10 years before anyone in Washington even dares to bring up the idea of requiring that this snippet of parental leave be PAID by employers.

Did you know that on our television and in our newspapers we in the USA literally NEVER hear about the benefits that ordinary people have in Europe? I bet you can guess why.

26 11 2009
Annika

To clarify, the payment of 80% of the salary that I mentioned above is not done by the specific employer but comes from taxes, so the cost is shared by all tax payers.

That said, there is usually some agreement between the employer and the workers’ union in question which grants the employed parent an additional sum during the first one to four months (per parent) of his or her leave to compensate for part of the income decrease during the leave. This typically amounts to 10% of the salary so the parent would receive a total of circa 90% instead of 80% of the salary during this shorter period.

I was an exchange student in the US for a year in the late eighties and I have been back to visit. I also have some relatives there, so I have at least some experience of the public opinion (regarding taxes and such) and what media selects to report about and how. I loved my year over there and there are many things that are great about the US, but I agree with you that social welfare is not not one of them. On the other hand things are never static. When paid maternity leave was first introduced in Sweden in 1931 it was only for 30-42 days. From there it has been a step-by-step development.

26 11 2009
nightman1

Thanks Annika, for the clarification. Sweden has always seemed like a dream place to me. I loved what I heard about its politics and its social welfare system when I was young way back in the 1960s (And I loved Ingmar Bergman films to distraction also.) Much later in my life, as I started to have afflictions that made me need social services, I started to wonder, “Does EVERYONE in the developed world have to live like this?”

By ‘like this” I mean, among many other things, that when I walk to work each day in the downtown of a major Southern United States city, I routinely see homeless people. My heart goes out to them all. Our society does nothing for them, and our right-wing non-homeless citizens have an elaborate set of rationalizations for why it needn’t. The classes of the unfortunate and the impaired who get no help here are legion.

But I think if the middle-class, employed people here were allowed to know, in a broad-based way, that THEY could have access to programs that make their stressful and insecure lives better, but are for some reason are never given such programs, I think our politics in the US might slowly change.

Anytime you feel like coming back and telling me more about Sweden, I will happily make it a part of my blog.

26 11 2009
jodi

So when are you moving?? If it weren’t so cold there, I’d go in a heartbeat.

26 11 2009
nightman1

Greetings friend!

Can’t move to Sweden because:

1, I’m vain of my facility with English. I could never adjust to being helpless in a new language.
2. Couldn’t stand the cold.
3. Am barely socialized; can only function in my society of origin.

But how nice to live in a place whose social arrangements and values one actually LIKED!

27 11 2009
Carole

Nightman,

Thank you for this post. It is interesting to read about health programs in other countries.

I would be really interesting in knowing how taxes in other countries compare to taxes in the US, as well.

Carole

27 11 2009
27 11 2009
nightman1

Taxes are high in Sweden, as my first informant said, but I don’t know how high they are, exactly. I assume they aren’t crippling because Sweden seems to be prospering as a nation, and has been as long as I’ve been taking an interest in it. Also, we never hear about Swedes revolting against their tax burden.

I would imagine that the Swedes find it possible to accept substantial taxation because they get so much for it, as this post has tried to demonstrate. Their government doesn’t insist on having an empire, so it doesn’t spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on weapons and soldiers. There appears to be ample money there for infrastructure for the nation and programs that make life better for the people.

Almost all American discussions of taxes look at the issue from the point of view of the wealthy minority. To them, taxes are of course abhorrent: They have to pay more tax, in absolute terms, than other, less wealthy, people, and they don’t need most of the social services the taxes would pay for at all. This always seems to convince us that taxes suck. After all, if Joe the Plumber were wealthy he certainly wouldn’t want to pay more taxes, right?

But Joe isn’t rich. And the vast majority of us aren’t. So the result is that in the USA taxes are kept light and it’s possible for the wealthy to continue to live in unbelievable comfort, security, and luxury. Some of my other posts have directed readers’ attentions to the extremity of their lifestyles. Meanwhile, the majority of us live out our lives always subject to being suddenly kicked way down the income hierarchy, or even made homeless, if we should have a substantial misfortune of some kind, such as a major illness or the loss of a job.

I believe that that this gnawing insecurity endured by so many of us is one of the main reasons we have so much violence, drug use, political craziness, and even obesity here. Turning the taxes debate around and looking at the world from the point of view of those who must live all our days in constant economic suspense, it seems to me that it would be good for our society as a whole if we, and particularly our wealthy people, paid more taxes, maybe a lot more, in order to pay for social benefits that would remove some of that suspense from the lives of the majority.

27 01 2010
williamzest

really in the usa vs sweden the taxes are about the same. In america you pay 25% in taxes and then pay ssci and things you will never get much from in return. Then you pay state taxes in most states in the usa. In sweden taxes are about 30 or 35% and you get really 100.00 a year of usd spent out of your own pocket then all medical is free & dental is like next to nothing also. It is amazing. Nothing in the usa is missed and sure not the hate and robbery and anger in the usa. I miss nothing from america. I live in sweden and it is amazing.
Its not legal to call homes and sell or scam people. Ads in papers and on tv are less since they do not allow scam companies to run in sweden. There are so many things in usa that swedish people never need worry about. It is like heaven in sweden. Yes they speak english better than most americans and are very wise & kind people in all of europe. The schools are better and all things are. I lived in both places. read htttp://www.opps.se if you want to know more about usa vs europe life.

27 01 2010
nightman1

Thank you very much. I can’t afford to travel, but I’ve had many indirect glimpses of life in Sweden over the years and I loved everything I saw. Just the extensive spending to build beautiful PUBLIC spaces that Sweden does so commonly and we do it so little tells a lot about the two places.

I think for various reasons–their long history, their ethnic uniformity, their high level of education, and the fact that they have always had to battle a rather harsh climate–the Swedes believe in the value of living in a real community and have built one.

And America does not and has not. There’s a terrible irony here. The USA was populated largely by lower-class people from Europe, Sweden included, back when the aristocratic societies of Europe had little use for such people and little in the way of opportunity to offer them. Now Sweden and most of Europe have evolved to create societies where even poor people can pursue something other than survival.

Meanwhile, out of our welter of unrestrained individual ambitions, we in the USA have created a society where it’s every man (or woman) for himself, and the very concept of sacrificing any of one’s own economic interests for the community is suspect.

Guess who has gotten screwed by that? Yes, the poor people again. (I have other postings that demonstrate this.) Meanwhile this country’s government gradually turns into an ologarchy.

Now where do all OUR poor, disregarded, no-longer-needed working people have to immigrate to?

….

I’m beginning to develop sufficient initiative to take a trip to Sweden. I’m pretty old, and I’d to see one civilized country before I get too old to travel.

28 01 2010
hans

As all social welfare system it build on peoples mentality to want to work. If everyone tries to work we could afford paying for those who cannot.

Another comment to the US system: US is more about your own responcibility: You can choose yourself what kind of insurnances you want. In sweden and the netherland you have a car insurnance on the car. In US that insurance is tied to the person not to the car (i think).

28 01 2010
nightman1

Actually, the fundamental reason we in America PERHAPS can’t afford Sweden’s welfare state is our military budget. It is good to keep in mind, when hearing about all those billions mentioned by pundits as “wasted” by the US government for this and that, that this fiscal year along our military budget was in excess of 500 billion dollars. That is approximately half of all non-debt spending by the US, and is approximately equal to the defense spending of all other nations combined!

In other words, if we gave up our beloved Empire, or even part of it, we could have the much-less-anxiety-ridden lives that Swedes have, even if some of our people didn’t want to work. I doubt that many people would not want to work at all though, under any social system. Even in Sweden that brings you a very narrow life.

But you have discovered a grain of truth. The Owners of Capital want everyone working just as hard as they possibly can just about all the time. In the USA they have created a situation where lack of all forms of economic assistance keeps us working people always on the brink of terror about our economic prospects. As a result, Americans, statistically, work more hours per year than the people of ANY other country.

If we had a bit more social welfare, we wouldn’t be so scared of economic disaster, and so the Owners couldn’t whip us on to such extraordinary levels of labor.

I can’t believe you or even very many Americans in general really believe that life is for working and little else. But I know the Owners believe YOUR and MY lives are for that.

And, amazingly, we have let them build a society where we live exactly that way.

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