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Policy Contribution

Why is it so hard to reach the EU’s ‘poverty’ target?

The ‘poverty’ target set by the European Commission aims to lift “over 20 million people out of poverty” between 2008 and 2020 in the EU27. Progress to date against this target has been disappointing. Why is it so hard to reach the Europe 2020 ‘poverty’ target? What does the poverty indicator actually measure?

By: Date: January 19, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

“This paper has been published in Social Indicators Research.”

  • The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth set a target of lifting more than 20 million people out of poverty, but European Union countries have struggled to make progress towards the target.
  • Zsolt Darvas demonstrates both theoretically and empirically that the ‘poverty’ indicator in the Europe 2020 strategy essentially measures income inequality, not poverty.
  • His illustrative calculations show that even after taking into account the positive impact expected economic growth should have on material deprivation and low work intensity, the Gini coefficient of income inequality would have to fall by four points in each EU country if the Europe 2020 ‘poverty’ target is to be reached. This would be a huge decline.
  • Enormous differences between ‘poverty’ thresholds adopted by different EU countries make the EU-wide ‘poverty’ aggregate pointless.
  • Even though 24 percent of EU citizens are deemed to be poor or socially excluded, we find that social issues receive little attention in the European Semester, which is supposed to support the achievement of Europe 2020 targets.
    The few relevant recommendations that have been made targeted poverty, employability and social exclusion, which are important goals. There have been no specific measures to reduce income inequality.
  • The political agreement between EU member states clearly expressed the goal of reducing poverty, not inequality. It was a grave mistake to base the Europe 2020 poverty target on an indicator of income inequality and to speak about ‘poverty reduction’ in relation to that indicator.
  • The European Council should meet again to discuss what social goals to pursue, and to adopt corresponding indicators and strategy.
  • There are good reasons to aim for lower income inequality, which would require further measures such as more progressive income, wealth and inheritance taxes, better opportunities for disadvantaged and poorer families, with implications for education systems and labour market institutions, and the curtailing of unjustified rents enjoyed by certain segments of society.
  • The author suggests that the misleading label of the Europe 2020 target indicator ‘at risk of poverty or social exclusion’ be replaced with ‘relative income poverty or income inequality or potentially social excluded’, which may sound convoluted, but would be better than the current short but misleading name.
  • New poverty indicators should be developed, such as considering the cost of a specific basket of goods and services as the threshold. Beyond headcount, the calculation of poverty gaps and other indicators that show the depth and severity of poverty would be important.
  • EU-wide poverty and income distribution indicators should consider the distribution of income within the EU as a whole.
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COVID-19 is laying bare socio-economic inequalities and could exacerbate them in the near future. The virus is a risk factor particularly for those at the lower end of the income distribution, who are vulnerable to the interaction of the shock with income, socio-economic and urban inequalities.

By: Enrico Bergamini Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 31, 2020
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Past Event

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The quality and quantity of work in the age of AI

At this event, the panelists will discuss the implications of Artificial Intelligence on the labour market and the future of work in general.

Speakers: Robert Atkinson, Anna Byhovskaya, Maria Demertzis, Carl Frey and Daniel Samaan Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: February 5, 2020
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External Publication

Manufacturing employment, international trade, and China

The decline in manufacturing employment is often seen as a major reason for rising inequality, social tensions, and the slump of entire communities. With the rise of national populists and protectionists in recent years, the issue has become even more prominent.

By: Uri Dadush and Abdelaziz Ait Ali Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: November 28, 2019
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Blog Post

Cross-border, but not national, EU interregional development projects are associated with higher growth

Our calculations reveal that places where EU regional development projects bind together participants from different countries experience higher economic growth. Purely national interregional projects, on the other hand, are not associated with such benefits. The results hold across regions of different levels of income and consider the effects of other growth-determinants. Cross-border projects might bring efficiency gains, unlock synergies and provide knowledge transfers, boosting activity, with gains going beyond the projects’ scope. Cross-border projects could provide perhaps the only rationale for the continued cohesion/regional funding of more developed regions.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Jan Mazza and Catarina Midões Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 14, 2019
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Opinion

Germany’s Divided Soul

Eastern Germans vote, think, and feel differently than western Germans do, as the results of the September 1 regional elections make clear. To help tackle the underlying economic causes of this divide, the federal government should introduce incentives to encourage foreign investment in the east of the country.

By: Dalia Marin Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 13, 2019
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Past Event

Past Event

AI, robots and platform workers: What future for European welfare states?

At this event, we launch the study, "Digitalisation and European welfare states", authored by Georgios Petropoulos, J. Scott Marcus, Nicolas Moës, and Enrico Bergamini.

Speakers: Michael Froman, J. Scott Marcus, Monika Queisser, Thiébaut Weber and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Location: France Stratégie, 20 avenue de Ségur Date: July 9, 2019
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Blueprint

Digitalisation and European welfare states

EU policymakers must find answers to pressing questions: if technology has a negative impact on labour income, how will the welfare state be funded? How can workers’ welfare rights be adequately secured? A team of Bruegel scholars, with the support of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, has taken on these questions.

By: Georgios Petropoulos, J. Scott Marcus, Nicolas Moës and Enrico Bergamini Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: July 9, 2019
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Opinion

Farewell, flat world

In the last 50 years, the most important economic development has been the diminishing income gap between the richer and poorer countries. Now, there is a growing realisation that transformations in the global economy have been re-established centrally from intangible investments, to digital networks, to finance and exchange rates.

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Podcast

Podcast

Deep Focus: Making a success of EU cohesion policy

Bruegel senior fellow Zsolt Darvas talks to Sean Gibson in this Deep Focus podcast about how the EU can improve its cohesion policy, citing the best examples of its implementation and stressing the methodological difficulties in measuring its effectiveness.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 20, 2019
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Policy Brief

A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership

Memo to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. 'A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership' by Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram Wolff is the first of our 2019 Bruegel memos to the new presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. Focusing on the most important economic questions at EU level, these Bruegel memos are intended to be a strategic to-do list, outlining the state of affairs that will greet the new Commission.

By: Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 13, 2019
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External Publication

Effectiveness of cohesion policy: learning from the project characteristics that produce the best results

This study by Zsolt Darvas, Antoine Mathieu Collin, Jan Mazza, and Catarina Midões analyses the characteristics of cohesion policy projects that can contribute to successful outcomes. Their analysis is based on a literature survey, an econometric analysis and interviews with stakeholders. About two dozen project characteristics are considered, and their association with economic growth is studied using a novel methodology. Based on the findings, the study concludes with recommendations for cohesion policy reform.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Antoine Mathieu Collin, Jan Mazza and Catarina Midões Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 11, 2019
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Blog Post

A European atlas of economic success and failure

Economic growth was diverse across EU regions, yet it is crucial to control for region-specific factors in assessing growth performance. We find that there are rather successful regions in many EU countries, suggesting that the EU can provide a good framework for growth. Yet the worst performers are more concentrated in some countries, suggesting that country-specific factors can play a major role in regional development.

By: Zsolt Darvas, Jan Mazza and Catarina Midões Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 3, 2019
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