Smeeding calculates absolute poverty rates as of 2000 using two poverty lines — the official U.S. line and 125% of that line. The U.K. is higher than the U.S. using either line. Krugman suggests that the U.K. rate may be lower than ours by now due to the Blair government’s anti-poverty initiatives. That is possible — we won’t know until more recent data are available — but the U.K. rate as of 2000 was significantly higher than ours, so the progress would need to have been dramatic.
Sweden and Finland have lower absolute poverty rates than the U.S. using one of Smeeding’s lines, but higher rates using the other.
According to my calculations, using the same Luxembourg Income Study data, five additional countries that Smeeding does not include — France, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and Spain — have higher absolute poverty than the U.S.
Here are my calculations. They’re from this paper. I use absolute income levels at the tenth percentile of the income distribution (so higher is better) rather than poverty rates. I prefer P10 incomes because poverty rates ignore the depth of poverty, but the two approaches yield very similar results.
This is not to suggest that we should be satisfied with our absolute poverty ranking. Given our nation’s economic wealth, incomes for Americans at the low end of the distribution are far lower than they could be. And as Krugman rightly points out, and I discuss in detail here and here, an exclusive focus on income overlooks the relevance of work hours and of public services such as health care, schooling, and child care for the well-being of the poor.
Addendum: Contra Tyler Cowen’s suggestion, the data for the U.S. used here do include the Earned Income Tax Credit and Food Stamps (though not Medicaid).