Research has shown that someone with a poor credit history is not automatically a poor job prospect. Nevertheless, millions of Americans who have emerged from the recession with medical debts or a record of late payments are at risk of being denied jobs by companies that use credit histories to screen applicants. Several states have placed limits on this practice. But until the federal government engages the issue more aggressively, employers will consign otherwise qualified applicants to a kind of pariah class that gets shut out of the job market.
Advocates of screening say that it provides insight into an applicant’s character. But those who seek bankruptcy often do so because of unmanageable medical debt. A new study of nearly 1,000 low- and middle-income families by Demos, a research and policy group, suggests that most of those who suffered degraded credit ratings during the recession either lost their job, lacked medical insurance or incurred debt when they were injured or got sick. “Poor credit,” the study says, “tells a story of medical misfortune far more convincingly than one of poor work habits.” The study also underscored the fact that African-American families have been disproportionately affected. They had fewer assets to start with, and were easy targets for predatory subprime lenders who led them deeper into debt.