Respect Equality

US ranks last in worker benefits among developed countries: data

Story at a glance

  • In an analysis of international worker benefits, the U.S. scored low among comparable developed countries.
  • Lack of universal health care and paid time off were weak points for the U.S.

Newly compiled national data delivers bad news for working Americans: The U.S. is among the countries with the poorest quality of worker benefits in the world.

Human Resources software company Zenefits compiled data on the U.S.’s workplace benefits systems and compared them to how international firms keep both employees and regulating agencies happy.

Looking at a range of benefits, from health care to retirement options, companies based in the U.S. rank lower than other comparable developed nations in terms of best benefits.

Famed for their successful public health care systems, northern and Scandinavian countries like Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Norway ranked in the top 10 countries with the best health care benefits. 

This is largely due to the bulk of taxes in these nations allocated toward their health care and medical infrastructures.

The U.S., where health care is privatized, does not offer universal health care, and Zenefits notes that private hospitals also propagate treatment inequalities between individuals who can afford higher quality treatment and those who cannot.

Retirement benefits are another weak spot for the U.S.; older reports indicate that the U.S. comes in 16th place among the countries with the best retirement plans. 

Still, the U.S. boasts a high quality of life and material well-being, indicating that American retirees are well-provided for. Offsets for these benefits include income inequality, as well as providing adequate financing for retirees. 

This inequality in U.S. retirement planning extends to racial injustice as well. Some 24 percent of white family households are covered with an employee-sponsored retirement plan, compared to 16 percent of households of color.

Black and Latinx workers also report a lack of retirement savings, with 62 percent of Black and 69 percent of Latinx households reporting having no retirement plan. This is opposed to just 32 percent of white households.

Across the globe, the U.S. also came in 32nd place for highest life expectancy, averaging 78.5 years.

The U.S. is also notoriously stingy with its paid time off. Be it for sick leave, parental leave, or general work-life balance, the U.S. shows zero mandated paid holidays, whereas similar countries within the European Union average between 20-30 paid holidays for discretionary use.

Maternity leave is protected under U.S. labor laws, though, with 12 weeks of unpaid leave being the baseline for companies. 

Other countries, such as Finland, Germany, Japan, and Canada give their employees more time, ranging from 161 weeks to 52 weeks. 

Within the U.S., however, workplace benefits can vary by state. Broad trends say that coastal states, such as California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Maine and Massachusetts offer better working conditions than states located in the South. 

The No. 1 place in the U.S. for worker benefits is the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., due to high wage standards and strong worker protections. 

Policy changes could improve worker’s benefits, with raises in the minimum wage on a federal level and expanded paid family and medical leave being among the most popular initiatives.