Despite popular misconceptions, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data confirms America spends more on social welfare than any other country—$13,500 per capita in 2009. This is nearly 25 percent more per capita than the second largest spender, France, and 35 percent more than Germany, Sweden, and other high-spending Scandinavian countries.
Several factors obscure this truth. Europe taxes benefits more heavily, whereas benefits are often tax-exempt in the United States. The private sector finances a much greater share of social spending in America, particularly healthcare. While France spends more than America as a share of GDP—32 vs. 29 percent—the much larger U.S. GDP per capita—$47,000 vs. $34,000, $36,000 and $38,000 in France, Germany, and Sweden respectively—yields much greater spending per capita.
The current OECD findings are similar to its 2007 findings—the year prior to the financial crisis—and to a 2003 study that contributed to the OECD’s methodology. In both previous studies, the U.S. spent more per capita than other countries and a similar amount per capita before the crisis in 2007 as it did in 2009.