It is a bit depressing to think so callously, but as I read the chapter on publicly funded rehab centers in David Carr’s The Night of the Gun (212-213 in my edition), I couldn’t help but think about some numbers. (I should foreground this by saying that his argument is that we a are a civilized people, and so should be willing to spend good money after bad in order to help addicts. His argument has nothing to do with numbers, though he does mention the fact that as a functioning citizen he is making money and paying taxes).
First let’s look at what healthy, working David Carr has paid in since he got out of rehab. Carr estimates that he has kicked in about $300,000 in federal and state taxes since his successful stint in rehab, which took six months. He wrote the book in 2007 and got out of rehab in about 1990. Over 17 years, that is $17,650 per year. Elsewhere in the book someone mentions that there were about 12 success stories from his program. If we assume that they are all as well paid as Carr (which is a big, unfounded assumption, but lets go with it) it means that the graduates have been kicking in $211,800 per year. Consider that the program was only six months and the numbers start to look even better. Assuming that there were 24 success stories per year, that means there’d be 423,600 dollars per year in tax income that wouldn’t have otherwise come in.
But would that cover the cost of running a facility? Elsewhere in the book he estimates that there were around 65 residents in the program. Let’s say you had a staff of 20 people, all working for very, very low wage of $20,000 per year. As for food, Carr mentions that they get a lot of leftovers from bakeries, and that the residents are made to go on welfare and food assistance. Let’s assume that that takes care of all of the food costs. Let’s say that non profits and volunteers take care of things like legal services. I’m not sure how to estimate the costs of maintaining an in-patient facility that can house 65 people at any given time, but it seems like the $23,600 left in our budget isn’t going to hack it.
The question isn’t whether we shut down the facility, but to look at how we can raise our rate of success. If they could bump it up to even half of the graduates, the numbers would look much rosier without given them the benefit of so many assumptions.
On another complete different note, Carr has an amazing selections of quotes in the book. My favorite was paraphrased from Melville: “The past is a textbook of tyrants, while the future is the bible of the free.” (303).