This paper uses data from the Luxembourg Income Study to analyse cross-national and cross-temporal poverty risks in eleven western countries. Our analyses are embedded in the tradition of welfare state research. Despite a hundred years of welfare state efforts, at the beginning of the 21st century the question of poverty is still highly relevant. It remains today Europe's most fundamental social problem. In the first empirical section we present the situation overall and show that poverty risks have tended to increase from the early 1980s to the present day. We also show that the cross-national variation is largely in line with what we would expect from the international discussion about welfare regimes. Furthermore we show that the proportion of the national population with a market income below the poverty threshold has increased in all countries and that the cross-national variation in market income poor is not apparently related to type of welfare state regime. Our analysis shows that the poverty increase chiefly can be explained by increased structural pressures rather than retrenchment of the redistributional systems. In the second empirical section we present a simulation analysis to test whether structural, i.e. compositional differences in age, family and labour market behaviour can account for the cross-national variation found. Our results demonstrate the increasing importance of household labour market attachment for alleviating poverty risks, as well as for explaining the cross-national variation in these risks. In this sense the low poverty rates in the Scandinavian countries are not only due to generous systems of social protection but also favourable socio-economic and demographic structures.