In 2013, the New York Times reported on the case of Carina, a 36-year-old Danish single mother who had been on welfare since she was 16. Denmark has long had one of the most generous welfare systems in Europe, and Carina was able to collect about $2,700 per month in benefits, an amount that enabled her to live quite comfortably without working. A second welfare recipient discussed in the article, Robert Nielsen, had been supported by the government for more than a dozen years. He had not attempted to find work and did not intend to. As he said, “Luckily, I am born and live in Denmark, where the government is willing to support my life.”

No one would be surprised to hear this. Europe, after all, has long been known for its lavish welfare benefits. Doesn’t Paul Krugman or Bernie Sanders tell us every other week that we should be more like the Europeans when it comes to fighting poverty?
But a new study, recently released by the Cato Institute, suggests that the United States increasingly fits into the mainstream of welfare states, at least when it comes to assistance for the poor.
European countries do spend a far higher proportion of their GDP on social welfare. But much of that money goes to programs for the elderly or the middle class. When it comes to means-tested assistance for the poor, Europe is less generous and the United States is more generous than is commonly believed.