Lessons from the Danes
In Denmark, social policy in areas like health care, child care, education and protecting the unemployed are part of a "solidarity system" that provides strong opportunity and security for all citizens. Danes pay high taxes, but in return enjoy a quality of life that many Americans would envy.
Denmark is a small, homogenous nation of about 5.5 million people. The United States is a melting pot of more than 315 million people. No question about it, Denmark and the United States are very different countries. But are there lessons we can learn from the social model in Denmark?
Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high quality. Everybody is covered as a right of citizenship. The Danish health care system is popular with patient satisfaction much higher than in the United States. In Denmark, every citizen can choose a doctor in their area. Prescription drugs are inexpensive. They're free for those under 18 years of age. Interestingly, despite their universal coverage, the Danish health care system is far more cost-effective than ours. They spend about 11 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.
When it comes to raising families, Danes understand that the first few years of a person's life are the most important in terms of intellectual and emotional development. In order to give strong support to expecting parents, mothers get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. Expecting fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child's life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care, more for low-income workers.
At a time when college education in the United States is becoming increasingly unaffordable and the average Vermont college graduate leaves school more than $28,000 in debt, virtually all higher education in Denmark is free. That includes not just college but graduate schools as well, including medical school.
In a volatile global economy, the Danish government recognizes that it must invest heavily in training programs so workers can learn new skills to meet changing workforce demands. It also understands that when people lose their jobs they must have adequate income while they search for new jobs. If a worker loses his or her job in Denmark, unemployment insurance covers up to 90 percent of earnings for as long as two years. Here benefits can be cut off after as few as 26 weeks.
It is no secret that in our country many people are living under great stress. They work long hours with relatively little time off. In fact, a growing number of businesses provide no vacation and can force workers to work long and irregular shifts. In Denmark, adequate leisure and family time is considered an important part of having a good life. Every worker in Denmark is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays.
Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the Danish people rank among the happiest in the world among some 40 countries that were studied. America did not crack the top 10.
Are there lessons that we can learn from the social model in Denmark? You be the judge.
Sen. Bernie Sanders represents Vermont in the U.S. Senate.
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