Poverty in the US and the UK: Relative Measurement and Relative Achievement

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By the government’s official measure, 18 percent of children in the United States were living in poor families in 2007. In the United Kingdom, where the Labour party has set a 2010 goal to reduce child poverty by 2010 to half the level observed in 1998/99 (and a 2020 goal to eliminate it), the official measure for 2006/2007 was 22 percent. While it may appear at first that US children are in a better position, this is misleading because of differences in procedures for measuring poverty in the two countries. Poverty in the UK is assessed by comparing a broadly defined measure of household income to a threshold amount equal to the 30th percentile of the overall income distribution. When a similar approach is used for US data, the estimated child poverty rate rises to 29 percent. It is likely that the new US administration will alter current procedures for poverty assessment in the US, and UK methods would be usefully studied. At the same time, the UK would benefit from study of American survey procedures and reform proposals.

Suggested citation
Wiseman, Michael, and Shwalb, Rebecca. “Poverty in the US and the UK: Relative Measurement and Relative Achievement.” Paper prepared for the 30th Annual Research Conference of the Association for Public Policy and Management, Los Angeles, CA, November 6-8, 2008.

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About Michael Wiseman