How Do the Poorest Americans Compare to the Rest of the World?

Citizens of the United States enjoy a much higher average income than citizens in a number of other nations, according to research documented in Branco Milanovic’s book The Haves and Have Nots. In fact, the poorest Americans living in the United States are financially better off than people living in Brazil, China and India. Overall, US citizens who account for the lowest 5% of income in the nation are richer than just under 70% of the remaining citizens of the world. When factors such as the gross domestic product (GDP) are considered along with average country income or individual GDP, the degree of income inequality is even more apparent.

Examples of Income Inequality:

  • Overall, US citizens remain the richest in the world. While the richest 5% of Brazilians come close to matching the income of the richest 5% of US-based Americans, their wealth or net worth isn't as close. With Brazil considered an emerging nation in terms of investment opportunities, this could change over time.

  • At the other end of the spectrum, the poorest Americans in the lowest 5% income range still enjoy a greater level of wealth than the richest 5% in the nation of India.

  • Income inequality not only exists between countries, but also within most nations. The contrasts can be significant, with the poorest citizens living in what may be described as primitive conditions, while the richest citizens enjoy high standards of living that include easy access to the best in technology and general goods and services.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the poverty line in the United States compare to that of other countries?

The poverty line in the United States is generally higher than in many other countries, reflecting the higher cost of living. According to the World Bank, the international poverty line is set at $1.90 per day, while the U.S. poverty threshold for a single individual under 65 was $12,880 annually in 2021, which is roughly $35.29 per day (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).

What percentage of Americans live in poverty, and how does this compare internationally?

As of recent data, approximately 11.4% of Americans live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This rate is lower than in many developing countries but higher than in some other developed nations. For instance, the poverty rate in the United Kingdom was estimated at 20% in 2020, while Denmark's was around 5.3% in 2019, as reported by Eurostat.

Do the poorest Americans have access to healthcare and education?

Yes, the poorest Americans typically have access to healthcare and education. Medicaid provides healthcare to low-income individuals and families, and public schooling is available to all children. However, the quality and accessibility can vary significantly based on location and other factors. The Affordable Care Act has also expanded healthcare coverage, although challenges remain in affordability and coverage gaps.

How does the standard of living for the poorest Americans compare to that of the poor in other developed countries?

The standard of living for the poorest Americans is generally better than that of the poor in many developing countries but can lag behind that in other developed nations. For example, the U.S. has higher rates of income inequality and relative poverty compared to countries with more robust social safety nets, such as those in Scandinavia. However, the poorest Americans still benefit from infrastructure, public services, and consumer goods availability that are less accessible in less developed countries.

What measures are being taken to improve the situation of the poorest Americans?

Various measures are being taken to improve the situation of the poorest Americans, including federal assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps), TANF (cash assistance), and housing vouchers. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has also been significant. Additionally, there are ongoing policy discussions and proposals aimed at increasing the minimum wage, enhancing job training programs, and reforming the tax system to be more progressive.

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Discussion Comments


Most Americans are the poorest, because of their greed. Nothing is ever enough.


The poorest Americans still have a car, cell phone and cable TV.


That is not a fair assessment of personal wealth because Americans are in much deeper levels of indebtedness than people in those other countries.

That makes the American creditors the richest people in the country, even more so than the creditors in those other countries.

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