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Guest Commentary: Unfair use of credit checks on job seekers
The Denver Post
February 16th, 2012
Job-seekers beware — whether you're applying to do maintenance work in Denver, telephone tech support in Littleton, plumbing in Fort Collins, work as a home care aide in Aurora, or even just scoop frozen yogurt in Colorado Springs — there's one qualification you'll need regardless of your skills or ability to do the job: good credit.
All of the positions above were advertised on Craigslist as requiring a credit check for employment. That means Coloradans who have poor credit due to unexpected medical expenses, a nasty divorce, or simply difficulty keeping up with bills after being laid off may never have a shot at a job they are perfectly qualified for.
Victims of identity theft and people who have commonplace errors on their credit reports could be similarly shut out. With more than 214,000 Colorado residents out of work, credit checks are a barrier to employment that no one can afford.
Employment credit checks leave many job-seekers caught in a painful Catch-22: they can't get a job because of damaged credit, but can't escape debt and improve their credit because they cannot find work.
In effect, employment credit checks are a double-whammy for those already hit hardest by the recession, including low-income people, African Americans and Latinos. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has repeatedly warned that employment credit checks have a discriminatory impact on African American and Latino job applicants, whose credit histories have suffered from discrimination in lending, housing and employment itself.
Some fear that credit checks have turned into another subtle means of employment discrimination: numerous civil rights organizations including the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have publicly opposed the use of employment credit checks.
It's particularly ironic that credit history should stop someone from getting a job, since consumer credit reports were never designed as an employment screening tool.
Credit reports were originally developed as a tool for lenders to evaluate whether someone would be a good credit risk based on their past payment history. These reports detail whether someone has fallen behind on their bills, whether they have had to declare bankruptcy, and if they've faced foreclosure.
Studies have demonstrated the rampant inaccuracies in credit reports and the difficulties consumers face in correcting false items. Yet over the past few years, the credit reporting industry, which is dominated by three large multinational corporations, has reaped profits from selling this personal consumer information to employers.
Credit check services are aggressively marketed to employers as a way to assess a job applicant's character or the likelihood that they'll steal from their workplace. But employers aren't getting the reliable indicator they might have imagined.
There is little social science research showing a clear link between someone's personal consumer behavior and their performance on the job. In fact, the few studies that exist have found no correlation between personal credit reports and the propensity to commit a crime. While credit reports can be a good indicator of the enormous economic pressures facing Colorado families right now, they're not a crystal ball revealing who will be a reliable employee.
It's no wonder that a growing number of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland, have taken action to restrict the use of credit checks in employment. It's time for Colorado to join them. SB 3, sponsored by Senator Morgan Carroll of Aurora, recognizes that credit checks are an unfair and unnecessary obstacle for many job seekers and would curb their misuse. Policymakers should give out-of-work Coloradans a leg up and pass this bill.