This is a set of very useful data on income and inequality from the OECD Factbook. To make it fit on my blog I’ve had to reproduce the chart in somewhat cramped and hard to read form, but if you click on the image you’ll see a larger version:
On the top, you see the median income in different OECD countries. As far as the United States is concerned, this looks similar to what you see with per capita GDP. If you apply Purchasing Power Parity adjustments to the data, Americans, where people devote a lot more time to working for money, earn a lot of money. We are, however, beaten out not only by Luxembourg’s tax haven but also by the Swiss. Most galling of all, the median Dutchman makes more money than the median American even though the Dutch barely work at all:
At the bottom decile, things look totally different. The poorest ten percent of Americans are in about the same shape as the poorest Greeks or Czechs. Even the UK, which is not normally thought of as pursuing especially egalitarian or statist policies has poor people doing way better than ours. Is it all immigration? Well, Sweden has a higher proportion of immigrants than the United States and the poorest Swedes have more money the poorest Americans.
Our rich people, however, are kicking ass.
It’s also worth looking at the definition here:
Income is defined as household disposable income in a particular year. It consists of earnings, self-employment and capital income and public cash transfers; income taxes and social security contributions paid by households are deducted. The income of the household is attributed to each of its members, with an adjustment to reflect differences in needs for households of different sizes (i.e. the needs of a household composed of four people are assumed to be twice as large as those of a person living alone).
I’m not sure if I’m understanding this correctly, but I think it means that the conclusion that the median Canadian earns slightly less than the median American doesn’t account for the fact that the median Canadian also gets free health care on top of that.