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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #60, September 1993. It was written by Doug Henwood, editor and publisher. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.
It's been a while since LBO reported on the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). The LIS is both a library of international income and poverty data, massaged into rough comparability (incomparable measures are the bane of international comparisons) and a community of researchers who write about the data. A year's backlog of working papers recently arrived, and here are some highlights; for full references, write or call. Unless otherwise noted, income is income after taxes and transfer payments (welfare, unemployment benefits, etc.), and poverty is an income below half a country's median. (The median is the figure at the midpoint of the income distribution: half of all people have incomes above the median, and half below.) Most data is for the study's "s econd wave," from 1984-87, which supplements the first wave (1979-81). A third wave, circa 1990, is being developed now. This research should be kept in mind as Bill Clinton's plans "to end welfare as we know it" emerge.
Several recent studies are making up for the LIS's slow start at covering women's welfare.
* Single-mother families are worse off than two-parent families in all LIS countries, but their incomes vary widely, according to Yin-Ling Irene Wong, Irwin Garfinkel, and Sara McLanahan. In Sweden and Norway, single-mother families have incomes 85% those of two-parent families; Britain, France, and Germany, 74%; and Australia, Canada, and the U.S., 56%. (At 54%, the U.S. figure was the worst.) Unfortunately, this is early-1980s data, but the clustering probably hasn't changed much. Contrary to the usual idiotic caricatures, 71% of U.S. single mothers are in the paid labor force, the third-highest of the eight; Sweden and Norway outscore the U.S., with other countries lagging well behind. While U.S. single mothers earn wages roughly comparable to those ea rned in other LIS countries, most countries' transfer systems do a better job bringing them above poverty. For lone moms, then, work effort has little to do with economic well-being.
If you want single mothers to work for pay, you can either craft a savage welfare system like ours to force them to -- or offer subsidized day care, child allowances, and a political environment favoring equality between the sexes, which will allow even m ore women to work.
* A typology of welfare systems suggested by Gosta Esping-Andersen has been widely adopted by income connoisseurs. Esping-Andersen divided First World countries into three groups: social democratic countries, the most egalitarian, with income transfers av