Four weeks after starting a temporary accounting position at Seattle Bank, Kristin Meaux, 36, says she received a call from the human resources director informing her that the bank had mistakenly forgotten to run a credit check on her before allowing her to work there. Meaux says she agreed to a new credit check, but explained to the bank that she had been laid off from her last full-time job in March 2008 and was still trying to pay off several medical bills from a few pregnancy complications that cropped up after she lost her health insurance.
When the results of the credit report came in several days later, Meaux says she was promptly fired and escorted off the premises.
"The CFO of the bank told me that a person under my financial pressure and with my access to the general ledger could move money around to cover my financial debt," Meaux told HuffPost. "I was escorted off the premises, not even allowed to use the restroom. I'm not a thief, but I've never felt more like a thief in my life."
Meaux says she was dropped from the Robert Half International temp agency soon after, since the $60,000 debt she had accumulated while unemployed had made it nearly impossible for them to place her in accounting jobs. (Seattle Bank and Robert Half International both declined to comment on the story.)
"Before 2008, I had stellar credit, because I worked very hard to try to maintain it," Meaux said. "Now I've lost my house, I've lost everything, and I'm living in my sister's basement trying to pick up the pieces of my life. How am I supposed to do that without a job?"
For many longterm unemployed Americans, the credit situation is a Catch-22: they can't land a decent-paying job due to their poor credit, and they can't improve their credit without a decent-paying job. According to a Fair, Isaac and Company (FICO) report, as of April 2010, more than 25 percent of American consumers had "very bad" credit scores below 599, up from 15 percent before the recession. FICO reported that 75 million Americans had credit scores below 700 as of April, which they deem a "moderate" credit score--still not optimal for jobs in the financial sector.
While there is a bill pending in Congress that would prohibit the use of credit checks against current and prospective employees for the purpose of "making adverse employment decisions," Truth-Out.org reports that it has been stalled since July 2009 due to the intense lobbying efforts of the three major credit bureaus and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the primary sponsor of H.R. 3149, told HuffPost that he doesn't know whether the bill will make it out of the Financial Services Committee this Fall, but that he plans to continue fighting for it on behalf of his unemployed constituents.
"A lot of people in my district, where unemployment's about 9.8 percent, are having trouble finding jobs because of credit checks, and it has nothing to do with their ability to perform the job," Cohen said. "They've been laid off because of the economy, they're good employees, and they're honest people. You know, Bernie Madoff had a great credit check but he wasn't an honest person. I don't know what credit checks indicate, but it's not honesty."