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Smeeding, Timothy M.
Year of Publication: 
Series/Report no.: 
LIS Working Paper Series 426
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. Most nations have remarkable similarities in the sources of social concern within each nation - those of births outside of wedlock and lone parent families; older women living alone; high unemployment; immigration pressures; low wages; and the sustainability of social expenditures in the face of rapid population aging. They 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. This paper is designed to examine these differences in greater detail. We begin by reviewing international concepts and measures of poverty, as they relate to the main measures of income and poverty used in domestic United States discourse. In so doing, we examine basic differences in aggregate measures of well-being and social expenditure, while also identifying a number of criteria that we can use to examine the success and failure of antipoverty policy in a cross-national context. Next, we present cross-national estimates of both absolute and relative well-being for several subgroups of the population, including the elderly and different types of families with children. Measures of both poverty and inequality are presented and the comparative results are noted. After examining the level and trend in poverty rates, we explore some of the factors that are correlated with national poverty rates and examine the effectiveness of government programs aimed at reducing poverty and equalizing opportunity. Specifically, we examine the effects of work, education, family structure, and social policy in achieving these outcomes. In examining these findings, we use the criteria of adequacy, self-sustainability, and cost effectiveness to identify promising international lessons for the United States. We conclude with a discussion of the relationship between policy differences and outcome differences among the several countries, and consider the implications of our analysis for research and for antipoverty policy in the United States.
Document Type: 
Working Paper

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