Welfare programs have been among the biggest targets of budget cuts in the last few years, as states look to save money any way they can. But research suggests that everyone ends up paying for poverty, hunger and homelessness, especially when left alone.
The latest evidence to support this idea comes by way of Los Angeles County, where researchers just finished an evaluation of Project 50, a years-long initiative to house members of L.A.'s chronic homeless population.
The program cost $3.045 million to implement, according to the Los Angeles Times, but resulted in $3.284 million in savings by means of lowering incarceration and medical costs for the people who participated. That's a net gain of $238,700, according to the LAT. Plus, 94 formerly homeless people, three-quarters of all those who participated, now have a place to live.
It's far from the first time researchers have found evidence that widespread social problems put a heavy cost on taxpayers -- and that offering assistance to society's most vulnerable members can have economic as well as humanitarian benefits.
A 2009 study from the University of Southern California examined the cases of four homeless people who were put in permanent supportive housing -- and found that for each person, the cost of public services fell by more than $20,000 for each year they spent in a stable residence.
And an outreach program in Seattle, which found housing for 95 homeless people with alcoholism, found that the group had combined costs of more than $8 million before the program began -- including costs of incarceration, shelter use, and medical and detoxification services -- but combined costs of only $4 million after the program had been underway for a year.
Meanwhile, there's evidence that other kinds of deprivation have a heavy social cost as well. Childhood poverty has been shown to affect a person's earning power later in life, to the point where a 2007 Center for American Progress study argued that the long-term effects of child poverty cost the U.S. about $500 billion each year.
And the Center for American Progress has also argued that chronic hunger, a problem that afflicts nearly one in six Americans, has a national price tag of about $167 billion each year, when you add up all the health care expenses, charitable expenditures and lost workplace productivity that can be traced back to a lack of available food.