Posted by Lauren Wilfong
New Economy Project launched the NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment in 2012 to end the use of credit checks in the employment process, because we know that credit checks are not only nonsensical, they are detrimental and discriminatory. They compound already-existing inequities in our society and perpetuate structural racism.
Last month, our years of hard work paid off when NYC passed the nation’s strongest ban on employment credit checks.
As we gear up to ensure strong enforcement of this new law, we applaud the City Council on its passage yesterday of another crucial civil rights bill—the Fair Chance Act. Like the credit checks ban, the Fair Chance Act addresses unjust barriers to employment that disproportionately harm low-income people of color, with implications for entire New York City neighborhoods.
The Fair Chance Act prohibits employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional offer of employment is made. Currently, many employers ask applicants up-front if they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime and automatically reject anyone who says ‘yes’ — without providing an opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their qualifications or explain their criminal record. The Fair Chance Act addresses widespread stigma around court involvement that blocks thousands of qualified New Yorkers from sorely-needed jobs.
Incarceration, like negative credit history, cannot be understood in terms of personal failings within a vacuum. Due to historical and structural inequities in our criminal justice system, people of color and especially black men are drastically overrepresented in our court rooms and prisons. Just as credit history is effectively a proxy for race in the employment screening process, so is criminal history.
Just as employment credit checks create a vicious cycle (you rack up debt because you can’t get a job, and you can’t get a job because you have debt), criminal background checks often result in unemployment, and unemployment increases the likelihood of recidivism. Ensuring equal opportunity in employment is critical to reducing recidivism.
New York City is a more just and inclusive city with the passage of these two civil rights bills. We congratulate VOCAL-NY, the Community Service Society and all the members of Fair Chance NYC for their leadership in advancing this important legislation.