The Economic Costs of Youth Violence (and the Value of Small Effects)

Saturday, February 16, 2013
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)
Jens Ludwig , University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Common criteria used to identify crime-control interventions as “model programs” include the requirement that they be subject to one or more randomized clinical trials, and produce beneficial and sustained impacts on youth violence. Practitioners often apply an additional test of whether the size of any intervention impacts are large enough to be “meaningful” for clinical or public-policy purposes. Yet what is missing from these perspectives is the recognition that the costs to society from crime and violence are so large that programs that yield even small effects can be worthwhile, depending on the costs of delivering the program itself. This talk illustrates these ideas using the results from several randomized experiments carried out in Chicago to address deficits in social-cognitive skills among at-risk youth, which yield small and/or temporary impacts on youth violence and delinquency – but that are nonetheless large enough for the interventions to generate benefits to society that are fully 3 to 30 times the per participant program costs.