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Poor People in Rich Nations: The United States in Comparative Perspective

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  • Timothy Smeeding

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    Most examinations of United States domestic antipoverty policy are inherently parochial, for they are based on the experiences of only our nation in isolation from the others. However, cross-national comparisons can also teach lessons about antipoverty policy. While all nations value low poverty, high levels of economic self-reliance, and equality of opportunity for younger persons, they differ dramatically in the extent to which they reach these goals. Nations also exhibit differences in the extent to which working age adults mix economic self-reliance (earned incomes), family support, and government support to avoid poverty. We begin by reviewing international concepts and measures of poverty. The Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) database contains the information needed to construct comparable poverty measures for more than 30 nations. It allows comparisons of the level and trend of poverty and inequality across several nations, along with considerable detail on the sources of market incomes and public policies that shape these outcomes. We will highlight the different relationships between antipoverty policy and outcomes among several countries, and consider the implications of our analysis for research and for antipoverty policy in the United States. In doing so, we will draw on a growing body of evidence that evaluates antipoverty programs in a cross-national context. Many international bodies have publishes crossnational studies of the incidence of poverty in recent years, including the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Human Development Report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Luxembourg Income Study. A large subset of these studies is based on LIS data.

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    File URL: http://www.lisdatacenter.org/wps/liswps/419.pdf
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    Paper provided by LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg in its series LIS Working papers with number 419.

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    Length: 41 pages
    Date of creation: Oct 2005
    Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic Perspectives 20, no. 1 (2006): 69-90.
    Handle: RePEc:lis:liswps:419
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    1. Hwanjoon Kim, 2000. "Anti-Poverty Effectiveness of Taxes and Income Transfers in Welfare States," LIS Working papers 228, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    2. Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Issues in Measuring and Modelling Poverty," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(438), pages 1328-1343, September.
    3. Atkinson, Tony & Cantillon, Bea & Marlier, Eric & Nolan, Brian, 2002. "Social Indicators: The EU and Social Inclusion," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199253494.
    4. Brian Nolan & Timothy M. Smeeding, 2005. "IRELAND's INCOME DISTRIBUTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 51(4), pages 537-560, December.
    5. David T. Ellwood, 2000. "Anti-Poverty Policy for Families in the Next Century: From Welfare to Work--and Worries," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 187-198, Winter.
    6. Rebecca M. Blank & Robert F. Schoeni, 2003. "Changes in the Distribution of Children's Family Income over the 1990's," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 304-308, May.
    7. Bradbury,Bruce & Jenkins,Stephen P. & Micklewright,John (ed.), 2001. "The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521004923, October.
    8. Bradbury,Bruce & Jenkins,Stephen P. & Micklewright,John (ed.), 2001. "The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521803106, October.
    9. Sheldon Danziger & Colleen M. Heflin & Mary E. Corcoran & Elizabeth Oltmans & Hui-Chen Wang, 2002. "Does it pay to move from welfare to work?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(4), pages 671-692.
    10. Sheldon Danziger & Colleen M. Heflin & Mary Corcoran & Elizabeth Oltmans, 2002. "Does it Pay to Move from Welfare to Work?," JCPR Working Papers 254, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    11. Susanna Sandström & Timothy Smeeding, 2005. "Poverty and Income Maintenance in Old Age: A Cross-National View of Low Income Older Women," LIS Working papers 398, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
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