Myth 6: Europe has a lower standard of living than the United States.

ShareFACT: In the United States nearly 14% of Americans live in poverty – about 40 million people — compared to 6% in France, 8% in Britain, and 5% or less in Germany, Sweden and Belgium. Twenty percent of American children live below the poverty line, as do nearly 23% of the elderly, the highest figure by far in the west with the exceptions of Russia and Mexico. The U.S. is ranked 29th in infant mortality, tied with Poland and Slovakia (in 1960 the U.S. was ranked twelfth) and 37th in health care (France is ranked first). The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans now owns 70 percent of the wealth but in Germany the top 10 percent owns 44 percent.

The claim that Americans have a higher standard of living is based on the U.S. having a higher ‘average income’ than most European countries. But average income doesn’t convey much about income distribution; if Bill Gates walked into a bar the ‘average income’ of everyone in the bar would increase by about a billion dollars!

Besides, Europeans invest their wealth into other important things besides income that benefit everyone equally, such as quality health care, child care, more vacations, more generous retirement pensions, paid parental leave after childbirth, free or nearly free college education, affordable housing, supportive senior care, better parks and more. In today’s economically insecure age, quality of life is not only about income levels but also about adequate support institutions for families and individuals. If the average American has more income than a European, how come Europeans have a much higher savings rate than Americans?

– Steven Hill, guest blogger



Ed. comments:

You can see all the posts in this series here.

Steven Hill is the author of “Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age” (www.europespromise.org). He’s visiting Seattle and Bellingham this week:

  • Monday March 15 at 11 a.m., interview on the Dave Ross Show, KIRO 97.3 FM
  • Monday March 15 at 7 p.m., presenting at the University of Washington Communications Building
  • Tuesday March 16 at 7:30 pm: presenting at Town Hall Seattle (tickets here)
  • Wednesday March 17, 7:00 p.m.: presenting at Village Books, Bellingham
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