Sorting Out the Poor
Concern about poverty is not confined within national borders. Rather, it is widespread, reflecting common experiences of economic restructuring and family change. Discussions about the "new poor" are based on accumulated statistics from a number of nations ( Room, Lawson, amp; Laczko, 1989). The importance of systematic comparative investigations for the sociology of poverty cannot be overestimated. Sociological knowledge has too often taken the form of theories that make context-free generalizations about modernity, and now postmodernity, but that in practice are applied to data from only one nation. In the field of social policy research, however, the situation is changing fast as comparisons between nations become increasingly common ( Smeeding, O'Higgins, amp; Rainwater, 1990). This internationalization of social policy research has been made possible by growing communication among social scientists in many countries and by the heavy investments that governments have made in research infrastructure.
The availability of socioeconomic microdata from national surveys that use similar methods has greatly enhanced the ability of social scientists to undertake comparative studies of poverty. In the investigations to be reported here, data will be presented for the United States and Canada. Comparing these two countries is interesting because they are similar, yet subtly different.