Comments below address Western Europe (the initial 12 EU countries). Adding in Eastern European countries certainly changes the mix - maybe that is where you are getting the impression that Europeans are worse off than US.
Let me clarify. Europe, as a whole, enjoys a substantially lower level of material quality of living. Counting only EU 12, it is still somewhat lower than that of the U.S.
The Swedish poverty example is a bit of a chestnut - are you talking about average GDP? Looking at average GDP lumps Bill Gates in with Joe Jobless to get at an 'average' that does not account for serious inequality.
GDP per capita ADJUSTED PPP.
Yes, there is greater inequality in the U.S., but the point was that even though the American poor do substantially worse than the American rich, they do rather well compared to the European poor. Which leads me to the following point:
Like it or loath it, what the European welfare state does is distribute costs across the whole economy and limit the amount that any one individual might actually have.
The welfare state does more than that, it also restricts the income gain by the society AS A WHOLE.
It isn't simply that the same pot of money is divided unequally in the U.S. while it is divided more equally in Europe; it is that that system of unequality (greater competition) leads to greater income gain as a whole, compared to less competitive systems. As I said before, the American poor have material quality of living similar to (in some cases exceed) that of the European middle class.
Now, there is a potentially legitimate argument that whatever the absolute gain, the lower relative gain (that is, relative to the rich of their own society) in a competitive society may lead to more resentment by the poor, thus leading to social disharmony. That is a debatable sociological phenomenon, but economically the verdict is clear.
and you are again dealing with averages - Bill Gates + homeless dude=2 rich guys on average).
And yet, the American middle class is very rich compared to the European middle class. Few European middle class families have three cars, a boat, multiple computers and 3,000 sq. ft. house.
That said, some of US 'disposable' income is used to buy services from private vendors that the gov't supplies in Europe.
Which results in competition for the said services, leading to superior product and lower prices.
House size is a function of population density - lots of McMansions in the heartland are cheap, doesn't mean that European housing stock is worse than American housing stock.
If population density is inversely proportional to housing size, then Russians in Siberia must have the biggest homes!
Americans can afford to buy large homes, because the U.S. credit system is exceptionally efficient (and less regulated) than in Europe or East Asia. When people can't borrow money easily, they have to, by necessity, save a long time, to buy a house, as in fact occurs in Europe and East Asia. When that system becomes more liberalized and efficient, savings rate goes down (as occurred in S. Korea, traditionally a very high savings rate country that experienced a drastic decline in savings ever since house loans and credit cards became widely available).
Absence of AC is a fact and is one of the things that sucks about Europe, but I'd ask when that became a major index of well-being?
While my personal well-being factors in presence or absence of A/C, I was not making any argument about "well-being," but material quality of living. A/C, like cars, house size, etc. is a quantitative measure of material quality of living.
It is also something intended to demonstrate to other Americans that what we take for granted ("Surely everyone must have A/C in this day and age") is not something universally possessed in the world, even in developed Europe.
Now, none of this is a argument against the view that Europeans, particularly older ones, are often discerning purchasers of textiles, including clothes. We Americans have emphasized high quantity and low prices, often leaving quality behind. But our pernicious (
) influence has taken its toll and European purchasing habits (particularly by the young) are converging with ours.