Economics

Is Sweden too equal to make room for migrants?

Swedish policemen check passports at Hyllie train station in Sweden. This week Sweden reinstated frontier checkpoints in response to the flow of migrants over its borders.

Swedish policemen check passports at Hyllie train station in Sweden. This week Sweden reinstated frontier checkpoints in response to the flow of migrants over its borders.

Credit:

Scanpix Denmark

Too equal for its own good?

That's one take on the Swedish government's announcement that it is introducing new border controls to control the flow of migrants from the rest of Europe. It is a major change in policy: until now Sweden has been one of the most welcoming countries in Europe for refugees and asylum seekers.

How could Sweden’s famously equal society be an obstacle to accepting large numbers of new immigrants?

“Sweden has a real equality problem,” Fredrik Segerfeldt, of the Swedish pro-immigration thinktank Migro, told PRI's The World. “It has the least income difference in the Western world. There are no low-wage jobs. Those jobs don’t exist.”  

According to Segerfeldt, the fact that Sweden’s few low-skilled jobs are highly paid is damaging for migrant populations. As a result of high pay, Swedish employers avoid creating low-skilled jobs, prefering to use technology or automation instead.

The difference compared to the USA or UK is stark, says Segerfeldt. “The difference I see is that there are always three times as many clerks at a [store] counter in America than in Sweden.”

According to Segerfeldt, this hits recent migrants hardest, making it impossible for them to gain a foothold in the economy or to start supporting themselves. Swedeish equality is in practice creating a two-tier society. “That is a serious problem. We have the highest gap in employment between between foreign-born and local born of all ... rich countries. We have a serious, serious integration problem.”

He says other employment figures also support this view: it takes an average of eight years for asylum seekers in Sweden to find work.So far,  Sweden has accepted more asylum seekers per capita than any other European country.

The only solution, Sederfeldt believes, is to begin to dismantle the salarly equality that Sweden is famous for.

“It’s very difficult for one of the most equal and richest countries in the world to absorb hundreds of thousands of people from the developing world. And hence we need more income gaps, and lower wages and simpler jobs. That is the main challenge.” 

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