- The American government pays for a lot of things, but it doesn’t cover everything other governments do.
- Americans still need to pay for things like healthcare, college, and daycare out of their own pockets.
- However, just because other governments pay for these benefits doesn’t necessarily mean they’re free — these countries often have higher tax rates, so taxpayer money can still fund benefits in the long run.
The American government spends money on a lot of things — national defense, veterans’ benefits, income security, natural resources, energy, and environmental protection, to name a few.
But there are a few things the government doesn’t cover that’s left to American citizens to pay, like healthcare and college tuition — all things that are paid for by the government in some other countries around the world. Quite a few of these expenditures, such as maternity leave and daycare, are highly beneficial for parents.
However, it’s worth noting that even in many of these countries, especially those in Europe, such social benefits aren’t necessarily “free.” These countries often have higher tax rates, giving the government more money to use on said benefits.
Here, six things Americans are paying for that citizens in other countries aren’t.
In the US, college tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s — and students are racking up an average of $17,126 in loans to pay for their school tuition as a result.
Many European countries, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland offer free college to citizens, However, the government pays for tuition with taxpayer money, so “free” is a relative cost. Europe traditionally has higher taxes than the US, enabling countries to offer additional social services, Business Insider’s Abby Jackson previously reported.
The US is the only wealthy, industrialized country that doesn’t have universal healthcare. Some say this model gives people more options, allowing them to pick the right plan for them, while others argue that government-funded healthcare reduces cost and offers a stronger social safety net, according to Business Insider’s Chris Weller.
“Life is much easier when your healthcare is covered without thinking about it,” a resident of Finland, which has single-payer healthcare, told Weller. “I have lived many years in a country where people have to choose whether they have or don’t have coverage for their health. Single-payer health care is easy and fair, providing basic security for all people regarding their health.”
In America, businesses voluntarily provide paid vacation leave. Without a national paid leave policy, nearly 25% of US workers go without time off, according to the Boston Globe, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If they want to go on vacation, they have to give up a day’s salary worth to do so.
In fact, the US is the only advanced economy without a paid vacation policy, reports the Boston Globe, citing the World Policy Analysis Center at the University of California Los Angeles. Only 13 countries are in the same boat. Most offer universal paid vacation policies — in the UK, employees receive about 28 days of paid leave, and in Denmark, workers get 25 days of paid annual leave.
Some European countries, including Bulgaria, Greece, the UK, Slovakia, and Croatia, have national paid maternity leave policies. New Zealand also has a paid parental leave policy of 22 weeks. But the US doesn’t have a national policy. Instead, maternity leave policies vary by employer — not all offer them, and not all are paid. Thus, new mothers have to sacrifice some of their salary to take time off.
It’s worth noting that not all national parental leave policies are fully paid. In the UK, mothers get 52 weeks of maternity leave, but only 12 weeks are paid in full — the rest are paid partially, according to CNN.
One mother in France explained to NPR that you have to “give to the system” for countries to afford this leave. “Governments rely on a social insurance structure, where small contributions create a pool of money that workers can draw from when they need to take leave,” wrote writer Jessica Deahl.
The Trump administration did include a plan for paid parental leave in its 2018 budget proposal, proposing six weeks of leave to eligible workers.
Finland also has an accommodating parental leave policy, as well as other perks: new moms receive a cardboard box from the government. Not only does it serve as a bassinet, it includes baby essentials like a sleeping pad, bathing products, diapers, and bedding.
In the US, expectant mothers need to shop for those items themselves.
The average cost of enrolling a child full-time in daycare in the US is nearly $10,000 a year. Meanwhile, multiple countries, like Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Sweden offer universal childcare, spending more than $9,000 per child age six or younger every year to provide daycare, according to The Atlantic.
Denmark pays for 75% of childcare, and even more for lower class families, according to The Huffington Post.