Proposed legislation in Utah would offer a tax credit to businesses that hire the homeless. Though the intentions behind this bill are noble, the consequences are worth considering.
Utah’s employment situation is relatively good, with a 5.1 unemployment rate as of November. But break down the numbers, and things get interesting. Young Utahans have borne the brunt of the recession and are facing dismal job prospects. A recent report found that only 56 percent of residents between the ages of 16 and 24 had a job — the lowest youth employment rate since 1979.
Many of these unemployed youth are high schoolers or college students, and their prospects are grim. When they hand in a job application, they’re already competing with more experienced adults. But that income, even if it’s just minimum wage, is much needed; the average Utah college student graduates with $17,227 in debt.
And then there are the homeless, whom employers often avoid for very justifiable reasons. According to government statistics, 34.7 percent of homeless adults sheltered on a given night in January 2010 had chronic substance-abuse problems. Drug and alcohol abuse are far more prevalent among the homeless than even mental illness. Moreover, 10 percent of people in prisons and jails have been homeless immediately before incarceration. To be sure, the homeless’s problems often result from tragic circumstances — but many have also made disproportionately poor choices.
The proposed legislation would give businesses a strong incentive — in the form of a $2,000 tax credit — to hire a homeless person instead of one of Utah’s promising young people.
Homelessness is a social blight, but it shouldn’t be resolved at the expense of youth who are already struggling in a bad economy. Utah would be better off spending the money directly treating the homeless, addressing the problems at the core of their unemployability.