RELEASE: New CAP Report Demonstrates the Role Labor Unions Could Play in Delivering Public Benefits

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress looks at the success of the Ghent system, in which trade unions help deliver government-sponsored unemployment benefits. Widely applied in a handful of European countries, the United States also has a number of Ghent-like policies that help address worker training, enforcement of labor regulations, and health care and retirement benefits. In “American Ghent: Designing Programs to Strengthen Unions and Improve Government Services,” authors David Madland and Malkie Wall argue that expanding the Ghent system in the United States could increase union membership and improve the quality of public programs here.

Originally named for the Belgian city, the Ghent system—an arrangement whereby trade unions help deliver government-supported unemployment insurance—is widely utilized in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Belgium. By giving labor organizations a formalized role in the unemployment insurance system, Ghent countries have been able to maintain relatively high rates of union membership. Research suggest that in those countries, the benefits of the Ghent system extend beyond union members as well, in the form of higher takeup rates and higher coverage.

The authors of the report propose that creating a robust Ghent-like system in the United States could help expand and improve workforce training, enforcement of workplace laws, and health care and retirement benefits, among others, while also increasing union membership.

“Increasing unions’ role in delivering government programs would help raise standards for workers by addressing both declining union membership and low quality or underutilized public benefits,” said David Madland, co-author of the report and senior fellow and senior adviser to the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress. “In the United States, unions already play a critical role in fostering an economic opportunity and civic engagement. Adopting a Ghent-like model would have the dual benefit of strengthening unions while helping to ensure that public benefits are delivered in a more efficient and cost-effective way.”

Click here to read the report: “American Ghent: Designing Programs to Strengthen Unions and Improve Government Services” by David Madland and Malkie Wall

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Julia Cusick at  or 202-495-3682.