By 2025, its entire workforce is expected to grow by 207,000 people—yet it needs more than that number just to staff its fabled welfare state. The worker shortfall could crimp services and raise labor costs, especially in a political environment less hospitable to immigration.
The mismatch is one of the biggest headaches facing Sweden’s next government. Past precedents don’t bode well. The workforce rose by 488,000 between 2007 and 2017, with less than a third of that increase absorbed by the public sector.
Local authorities recruiting 208,000 workers is “not a credible scenario,” said Annika Wallenskog, chief economist at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions. The real risk is that the public and private sectors end up competing for the same workers, she said.
The government is going to have to come up with some seriously big ideas on how to make up for future labor shortages. Immigration has also become an especially sensitive topic since the country re-imposed border controls in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis.
Sweden needs to accelerate the speed of automation, increase employment and reform its welfare state, Wallenskog said. Otherwise “we won’t have enough people to continue working the way we do.”
There are also financial hurdles. So far, a fast-growing economy has come to the rescue, helping Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson run a budget surplus and slash public debt to its lowest level since 1977.