Anemic economies and burgeoning immigrant populations are straining both the economic health of and political support for Europe’s welfare systems. The NYT reports:
At a time when some governments’ austerity policies have led to deep spending cuts, Europe’s ill-tempered debate over immigration has become intertwined with an equally thorny discussion of the costs of welfare, especially after Romanians and Bulgarians gained full access across European labor markets this year.
New immigrants are often in need of state support, but are drawing from a pool of money that they haven’t yet paid in to. Higher rates of immigration threaten the economic viability of these welfare systems, a phenomenon which is especially problematic for a continent still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis.But there’s a less obvious development at play here: when populations grow more ethnically and culturally diverse, the welfare state often becomes less popular. When a country (or, in the US, a state) is relatively homogenous, the poor are often seen as people ‘just like the rest of us’ and voters are willing to help them. But when many of the poor are from racial or ethnic groups seen as alien, that sympathy weakens. Immigration can strengthen the need for a welfare state as immigrants are often poor and struggle to make it in a new society, but simultaneously weaken public support for welfare. That seems to have happened to some degree in the US in recent years; it is happening across Europe as well.