In last week’s column comparing median income numbers from country to country, we found that, by the measure the OECD uses, median incomes in the US are the seventh highest in the world (not counting some tiny city states.) Even after including income from welfare programs, the median income of the US is about equal to that of Austria and Denmark.
These numbers include incomes from welfare programs, so it may very well be that the US’s relatively pro-market institutions really do lead to higher incomes for many millions of people — even including people in the lower third of incomes. Breaking out states showed that some regions of the US compare even more favorably.
The response to the article, of course, was predictable. Advocates for converting the US even more into a European style welfare state chimed in — in social media and in the comments section — with claims that European countries have higher life expectancy, lower crime, and are just generally better places.
This is often true, although comparisons don’t favor European welfare states nearly as much when we break out the US by states. Many US states compare quite well in terms of crime and life expectancy.
“On paper” comparisons, often favor the European welfare states.
When it comes to making comparisons of this nature, however, it’s always important to take a look at where people actually choose to live.
This has long been a useful tool in comparing US states, of course, and there’s been a long trend of people moving from high-tax states in the US to low-tax ones. When choice exists, many people vote with their feet.
And while it’s much more difficult and expensive to move from, say, Belgium to the United States than from California to Texas, the choices migrants make nevertheless can provide us with useful information. These moves tell us the demonstrated preferences of the migrants.
So, how many Western Europeans are moving to the United States, compared to migration in the opposite direction? A new report from the Pew Research Center titled “Origins and Destinations of the World’s Migrants, 1990–2017,” gives us some of the answers.
According to Pew’s helpful interactive map, Western Europeans move to the US in far greater numbers — both proportionally and in absolute terms — than Americans move to Western Europe.