Saturday, August 15, 2009

Catch 22

Look around you. Almost one in every 10 Americans is on the unemployment line in 2009, victimized by the depressed economy and by corporate downsizing.

Families from coast to coast are being impacted. Savings accounts are being depleted. Credit cards are being maxed out as families try to stay afloat. Some are losing their homes and their cars. Others are having to drain their 401(k)s and the children's college funds to survive. Even bankruptcy is a harsh possibility for some.

Congress has temporarily extended unemployment benefits and discounted COBRA insurance, but it is not nearly enough to spare the unemployed further humiliation.

Now comes word that more and more companies are using credit checks to screen job applicants. This seems so patently unfair. Millions of unemployed people are unwilling victims of downsizing, most did not receive golden parachutes when they were laid off and many did not get significant severance packages to tide them over until they found another job.

Naturally, unemployed people are going to rack up debt to survive. But should the unemployed be punished for having debt? Should an employer be able to deny a job to an otherwise qualified job applicant who has debt? Is it a double standard? Do they run credit checks on their existing workers and fire them for having debt?

Advocates of the practice say the credit checks can protect the employer from workers who may be tempted to steal to pay off their debts or from those who don't know how to manage their money. Perhaps this would be fair if the company were a financial institution or a money lender.

Critics say the practice is unfair, possibly even discriminatory, and traps the unemployed in a terrible Catch 22. If you cannot find work, you cannot pay off your bills. If you cannot pay off your bills, you cannot find work.

Few states have laws protecting the unemployed from this practice. Hawaii and Washington are among the few states that do.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should step to the plate and protect the unemployed.

And the practice should be banned with few exceptions.

Where is the public outcry over this?

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