Elizabeth Warren Proposes Federal Ban On Credit Checks In Hiring

CREDIT: AP/Paul Sakuma

Holiday HiringEmployers would be barred from requiring job applicants to share their credit history under a law proposed Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who said Congress needs to step in to restore “basic fairness” for the millions of job-seekers whose financial struggles during the Great Recession have been used to justify rejecting them from jobs for which they are qualified.

“Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs,” Warren said in a release announcing the bill. “This is about basic fairness — let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.”

Poor credit ratings say more about how hard a time people who want to work have had in recent years than about a person’s character, Warren said. Medical bills and “other bad breaks” that mar a person’s credit shouldn’t doom her to permanent joblessness, but that is exactly the catch-22 situation in which millions of the long-term unemployed find themselves today. Congress has already failed those people in the recent budget compromise that allows long-term jobless benefits to expire just after Christmas, but barring credit checks in the hiring process could make their path back out of poverty more walkable.

Studies on the use of credit checks in hiring back up the notion that it’s time for lawmakers to step in. There is no evidence that a person’s credit score carries any useful information about how they will perform at work. Tens of millions of credit reports have errors, according to a 2013 review by the Federal Trade Commission. Yet the checks are quite common despite their uselessness and erroneous nature. One 2012 study found that half of all hiring managers now use credit reports as a tool for thinning the herd of applicants, and one in seven people surveyed in another report said they’d been told that bad credit kept them from being hired.

Many states have started to tackle the misuse of credit scores in hiring. Nevada became the 10th state to enact such a ban back in June, and a similar proposal at the state level just won initial approval from New Jersey legislators this week.

A report from the think tank Demos argued that those state laws are rife with loopholes, however, and a federal effort could prove more effective. Warren’s Equal Employment for All Act mirrors a 2012 proposal from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) in the Republican-controlled House, and is cosponsored by half a dozen other Senate Democrats and supported by “more than 40 organizations,” according to Warren’s press release.