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

Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper No. 419

41 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2005  

Timothy M. Smeeding

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Date Written: October 2005


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 cross-national 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.

Suggested Citation

Smeeding, Timothy M., Poor People in Rich Nations: The United States in Comparative Perspective (October 2005). Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper No. 419. Available at SSRN: or

Timothy Smeeding (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-890-1317 (Phone)
608-265-3119 (Fax)


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