How long is too long to be paid to go without a job?
As extended unemployment swells almost everywhere across the advanced industrial world, that question is turning into a lightning rod for governments.
For years, Denmark was held out as a model to countries with high unemployment and as a progressive touchstone to liberals in the United States. The Danes, despite their lavish social welfare state, managed to keep joblessness remarkably low.
But now Denmark — which allows employers to hire and fire at will while relying on an elaborate system of training, subsidies for those between jobs and aggressive measures to press the unemployed into available openings — is facing its own strains. As a result, it is beginning to tighten up.
Struggling to keep its budget under control after the financial crisis, the government in June cut into its benefits system, the world’s most generous, by limiting unemployment payments to two years instead of four. Having found that recipients either get work right away or take any job as their checks run out, officials are also redoubling long-standing efforts to move Danes more quickly out of the safety net.