While Congress vacillates battling COVID-19 American unemployment compensation, some European countries' approach is humane and straightforward.
Unemployment handled humanely and smart in Europe
Ali Velshi first pointed out that many countries around the world are suffering the same effects from COVID-19 as we are in the United States. As people lock down at home, they are not working and people are not getting money.
Unlike the United States, Europe handles the problem in a very humane, smart, and practical manner. Economist Gabriel Zucman at the University of California, Berkeley co-wrote a New York Times piece titled "Jobs Aren’t Being Destroyed This Fast Elsewhere. Why Is That?" that everyone should read. From the article:
The coronavirus pandemic is laying bare structural deficiencies in America’s social programs. The relief package passed by Congress last week provides emergency fixes for some of these issues, but it also leaves critical problems untouched. To avoid a Great Depression, Congress must quickly design a more forceful response to the crisis.
Start with the labor market. In just one week, from March 15 to March 21, 3.3 million workers filed for unemployment insurance. According to some projections, the unemployment rate might rise as high as 30 percent in the second quarter of 2020.
This dramatic spike in jobless claims is an American peculiarity. In almost no other country are jobs being destroyed so fast. Why? Because throughout the world, governments are protecting employment. Workers keep their jobs, even in industries that are shut down. The government covers most of their wage through direct payments to employers. Wages are, in effect, socialized for the duration of the crisis.
The article did not have to dig too deep into our system to further see the inhumanity of an employer-based health insurance system. If you were lucky enough to have a job that provided insurance and you lost it, you likely lost your insurance as well.
This situation for laid-off workers would be bad enough if it were not aggravated by a second American peculiarity. As they are losing their jobs, many workers are also losing their employer-provided health insurance — and now find themselves faced with the Kafkaesque task of obtaining coverage on their own.
One option involves continuing to be covered by one’s former employer, a program known as COBRA. It is prohibitively expensive: Participants have to bear the full cost of insurance, $20,500 per year on average. Another option is to go shopping for a plan on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange, where one is faced with a bewildering choice between plans like Blue Shield’s Bronze 60 PPO (with a deductible of up to $12,600 per year) and Aetna’s Silver Copay HNOnly (with a $7,000 deductible and up to $14,000 in annual out-of-pocket expenses). The last option is to join the ranks of the uninsured, a catastrophic solution during a pandemic. There are reports that people have already died of Covid-19 because they refused to go to the hospital, worried about bills, or because they were denied treatment for lack of insurance.
Is there any doubt that we need a more robust, logical, and humane social safety net not designed by the corporate sector but by those who care about people? A good start is Medicare for All.