Relative poverty in Great Britain and the United States, 1979-2017

This article examines the major changes to the face of poverty in Britain over the past few decades, assessing the role of policy, and compares and contrasts this with the patterns seen in the United States, using harmonized household survey data. There are various commonalities between the countries, including a shift in the composition of those in poverty toward working-age households without children, who have not been the focus of policy attention. There are also big differences, with a steadily increasing share of poverty in Britain – but a stable share in the US - found in households with an adult in paid work. This perhaps explains why the anti-poverty focus in Britain is now squarely on the plight of working households, while in the US it is focused on labor force participation among the low skilled – even though, as we show, the US has for decades been used to in-work poverty comprising a significantly higher proportion of overall poverty than in Britain.



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Robert Joyce and James P. Ziliak