The United States is a Laggard on Family Benefits

February 24, 2020

All wealthy countries use public funds to provide various benefits to families, including child care assistance, child allowances, and paid family leave. But the mix of benefits they provide and their overall level of spending varies considerably. Historically, the Nordic social democracies have had the highest level of spending on family benefits. East Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, have had very low levels, and the United States and Canada fell somewhere in-between. 

The Nordics continue to have the highest level of spending (all currently spend above 3 percent of GDP on family benefits). However, as the chart above shows, Japan and South Korea now spend substantially more than the United States on family benefits. Similarly, while Canada and the US spent similar amounts in 2000, Canada now spends twice the US amount.  If the United States increased its spending on family benefits to the 2015 Canadian level, it would mean roughly $225 billion more for families in this year alone. 

(The chart ends in 2015, which is the most recent year comparative data is available for all four countries. If comparative data were available through 2019, it would probably show further increases in Canada due to the Canada Child Benefit, and possibly in South Korea and Japan, but little change in the United States.)

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