Economics of Social Services
Social services are important instruments for improving the living conditions of socially marginalised individuals and those in need of care. To cope with these different types of needs, various forms of social services have to be developed. The range of social services comprises social care, integration services for unemployed groups and debt counselling. One commonality between all of these services is that their target groups are vulnerable members of society. From an economic point of view, social services are characterised as experience goods which lead to information asymmetries between people in need, public purchasers and providers. These economic characteristics of social services result in a specific landscape of providers: the public sector is either a provider or financier, and many social services are provided by nonprofit organisations although for-profit organisations also enter social service markets. Societies face demographic, social and economic changes that lead to increasing and diverse needs for social services. At the same time, social service providers - particularly nonprofit organisations - face difficulties in recruiting qualified staff and confront financial restrictions due to the consolidation of public budgets and limited purchasing powers of their private clients. Within the research area, "Economics of Social Services", research projects at the Institute for Social Policy deal with these challenges. Ongoing research projects focus on the market structure of Austrian social service markets and its changes over time, wages and employment in the social economy and idiosyncrasies of nonprofit organisations as providers of social services.