Jobless data reveals how the pandemic has assailed American workers with exceptional force. The unemployment rate in the United States has soared nearly eight percentage points since February — it registered 11.1 percent in June — while France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands have all limited increases in the jobless rate to less than one percentage point.
“By and large, the European social model has proved quite adept and robust for this kind of crisis,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
None of this offers guarantees about the future. In many countries, the United States included, pandemic aid programs are set to expire in coming months. Given persistent fears about the virus, an abrupt elimination of relief would be damaging.
In Britain, nine million workers have officially been furloughed while continuing to draw paychecks under a government program. But as many as a fourth are at risk of being fired when the government reduces the subsidy in September, according to Bloomberg. In the United States, extra jobless benefits expire at the end of July, prompting worries that the removal of this aid will spell a loss of spending, further damaging businesses and producing another spike in unemployment.
For Americans, the risks are heightened by the fact that the nation lacks a national medical system — a feature taken as a given in Europe — leaving most people reliant on their jobs for access to health care.
For now, European programs are insulating workers from the consequences.
In Spain, the terrifying spread of the virus prompted the government to order a halt to nonessential services in mid-March. That threatened the livelihood of Ana Ascaso, a mother of three who works as a waitress at a popular bar in the center of Zaragoza, a city of 700,000 people in the northeast of the country. Her husband had been out of work for more than a year.