Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 20 No. 1 (Winter 2006)
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Poor People in Rich Nations: The United States in Comparative Perspective
Smeeding, Timothy. 2006. "Poor People in Rich Nations: The United States in Comparative Perspective." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(1): 69-90.
Cross-national comparisons can 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.
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