In this article, James Surowiecki hazards an explanation for European unemployment. Europeans work far less than Americans: "The French work twenty-eight per cent fewer hours per person than Americans, and the Germans put in twenty-five per cent fewer hours. Compared with Europeans, a higher percentage of American adults work, they work more hours per week, and they work more weeks per year."
Perhaps this is because Europeans value free time more highly than Americans, but it is also due to broader social aspects, such as the strength of labor unions and stringent workplace regulations: "The difference in work habits between Europeans and Americans, in other words, isn’t a matter of European workers’ individually deciding they’d rather spend a few extra hours every week at the movies; it’s a case of collectively determined contracts and regulations."
Two factors explain why American unemployment is so much lower, explains Surowiecki:
Factor #1: Because Americans are richer than Europeans and also work harder, they hire people to do things that Europeans do themselves: "Americans ... spend roughly twice as much in restaurants as the French, and almost three times as much as the Germans. Not surprisingly, many more Americans than Europeans work in the restaurant business. The same is true of child care." European women spend, on average, ten more hours per week doing household work than American women do.
Factor #2: Because labor in the U.S. is cheaper and more loosely-regulated than it is in Europe, there are lots of people to perform these service-industry tasks. In Europe, it's difficult for people to break into the labor market in low-skill, low-paid jobs: "[V]oluntary leisure for some Europeans has helped lead to involuntary leisure for others."
Since Surowiecki might not be familiar to German readers, I should point out that he's not a right-winger or Europe-basher, and this piece appears in the reliably liberal New Yorker. He wants to explain something, not point fingers.
If he is right, and I think he probably is, this means a lot of the debate in Germany about how to solve the unemployment problem is woefully misguided. German politicians speak constantly about beating the unemployment problem by creating high-quality jobs through the magic of "innovation" or the export of high-value goods like drugs or precision machines.