In Debt and Screened Out of a Job; Debate Centers Over Why Credit Checks Matter

USA Today - Thomas Frank
February 13, 2009

In debt and screened out of a job; Debate centers over why credit checks matter

BYLINE: Thomas Frank

After a judge found that Rick Brooks had been wrongly fired from his airport-screener job in Milwaukee, the Transportation Security Administration agreed in 2005 to hire him back.

One catch: Brooks had to pass a background check.

Brooks sensed trouble because, he said, after losing his job at General Mitchell International Airport in 2003, financial problems led to missing child-support payments.

The TSA found that Brooks owed $7,700 in child support and would not hire him.

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The case offers a rare glimpse into the credit requirements some employers set and their potential effect, particularly on people struggling financially.

The TSA said it did not hire Brooks because he had a medical condition that precludes working as a screener. Brooks said that even without the condition, he would have been denied his old job because the TSA excludes people with delinquent child-support payments.

New York City employment attorney Adam Klein, who does not represent Brooks, said many people are in tough situations because of employer credit screening.

“If you’re poor and have poor credit, you’re taken out of consideration from a whole host of jobs,” Klein said.

Employer credit checks look at only delinquent payments and not at credit scores, said background-check expert Lester Rosen.

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The TSA itself may add to screeners’ problems. In a 2007 report by the Homeland Security Department Inspector General, several TSA officials said that “the low pay (screeners) earn might be a reason why credit problems develop after hiring.”

In a survey for the report, 15% of TSA’s airport security directors said the credit standard was too strict and disqualifies good applicants. Screeners make about $35,000 a year on average, federal figures show.