Fighting child poverty in the U.S. and U.K.: A progress report

Professor Tim Smeeding

Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty, is pictured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Photo by: Bryce Richter

Historically, the United States and the United Kingdom have stood out among rich nations as having particularly high child poverty rates.

But last year Timothy Smeeding (Institute for Research on Poverty Director and La Follette School of Public Affairs faculty) and Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University) published an article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management that showed how child poverty trends in the United States and United Kingdom had diverged over the past decade, during which the United Kingdom pursued an ambitious war on child poverty.

The concerted U.K. government effort has reduced the British child poverty rate dramatically, even in the face of the recession.

Meanwhile, in the United States, a weaker safety net, coupled with the Great Recession, have caused the U.S. child poverty rate to climb.

A new research brief by Smeeding and Waldfogel updates their findings with new data for the two countries. The authors re-examine child poverty in the context of the ongoing recession as well as the change in government in the United Kingdom and subsequent ongoing changes in public policy toward poor children.

They find that absolute child poverty in the United States increased—from 18.0 percent in 2007 to 20.7 percent in 2009—while, in the United Kingdom, the absolute poverty rate for children had fallen to 13 percent by 2007/08 (data are from two years combined) and then fell to 12 percent in 2008/09 (the latest period for which U.K. data are available).

The authors assert that a more concerted national effort will be needed if the United States is to achieve anything like the successes of the United Kingdom in reducing its high child poverty rate.

Absolute Poverty in the United States and United Kingdom 1989–2009 as detailed in a new research brief co-written by Timothy Smeeding, Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty.

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