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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Music in the ancient style: The Arcadia Players, the Valley’s own historic music ensemble, performed Handel’s Messiah on period instruments at Mount Holyoke College’s lofty Abbey Chapel Dec. 20. Started up here by nationally known harpsichord and organ virtuoso Margaret Irwin-Brandon, the group, which draws attendees from as far away as Hartford and Brattleboro, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a Beethoven cello sonata spree March 15 and an “arts bar,” where the public can mingle with musicians, artists and poets. Watch for developments at www.arcadiaplayers.org.

 

It’s a vicious circle: you get behind with your bills. Maybe you miss a car payment. Then you lose your job, so you dust off your resume and start the hunt for work that will pay the bills.

Then you learn that, whatever your qualifications, you may be rejected by an employer if your credit score shows missed payments or unresolved debts.

It’s not just a rare occurrence; a survey done in 2012 by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 47 percent of employers checked the credit histories of job applicants.

All the problems that stem from employers’ use of credit scores to screen prospective workers have been aggravated since 2008 by a bad economy, which makes credit harder to maintain and jobs more difficult to find. The practice is also counterproductive in that it gives those who need work the most the most difficulty in finding it, while those already on a sound financial footing are more likely to be hired.

How can you get a job, pay your bills and improve your credit score if employers won’t hire you because of a credit problem? You’re trapped. And what if it’s not even a real problem, but a mistaken entry on your credit record? Anyway, is a credit problem tantamount to a character problem? Should a poor credit score really disqualify you?

No, according to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual’s character or abilities,” Warren said in announcing proposed legislation to correct the problem. She noted as well that the credit reporting system is “riddled with inaccuracies.”

Warren (D-Mass.), together with Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has just filed a bill that would prohibit employers from using credit scores to screen prospective hires. The bill has the support of 40 organizations, from Public Citizen to the Asian American Justice Center to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Warren’s bill is based on a House bill, HR 645, the “Equal Employment for All Act,” first filed in 2011 by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) The rather simple text of that bill says that a prospective or current employer “may not use a consumer report or investigative consumer report, or cause a consumer report or investigative consumer report to be procured ... where any information contained in the report bears on the consumer’s creditworthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity” for purposes of deciding whether the “consumer” will be hired, or, if he or she is already an employee, for purposes of deciding whether an “adverse action” (firing, demotion) will be taken.

The prohibition applies even if the prospective worker gives consent for the credit history to be examined. The only exceptions are for jobs requiring FDIC clearance, government positions at various levels, and managerial jobs at financial institutions.

As the Warren and Cohen bills make their way through Congress, nine states, including Vermont and Connecticut, already have laws prohibiting employers from using credit checks to screen applicants; the exceptions are generally similar to those provided for the the House bill (Connecticut also exempts jobs that come with expense accounts or company credit cards).•

 

Notable Passing

World-renowned saxophonist Yusef Lateef, a longtime resident of Shutesbury, died last week at the age of 93.

Lateef, who was also a virtuoso flutist, is credited with bringing world music into the traditional American jazz scene. From 1987 to 2002, he was a professor of music at UMass-Amherst. In recent years, in spite of a busy touring schedule, he continued to teach at UMass and Hampshire College.

 

Worth Quoting:

“After they’ve opened up all their presents and wished everybody Merry Christmas and had a wonderful dinner ... 1.3 million of our fellow citizens will be cut off totally from their unemployment compensation.”

 

—Western Massachusetts congressman Jim McGovern on the refusal of House conservatives to renew emergency unemployment benefits while passing the budget compromise before the end of the last session. Beginning this month, those who have been jobless for more than six months must do without the emergency benefits.

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