Between credit cards, student loans, mortgages, medical bills and other unexpected financial calamities, many Americans owe some corporate entity money. According to varried sources, the average American owes somewhere between $5,000 and $16,000 in debt, much of it attributed to credit cards. Even if you’re one of the lucky people to remain marginally debt free, it’s likely you either crawled out of a hole of debt, know someone who has money troubles or sometime later in life, will end up in debt. In the new global recession/depression, one wrong fiscal move or unavoidable fiscal accident can land most of us in the poorhouse.
In modern times, the poorhouse isn’t the same Dickensian debtor’s prison of the 19th century – such a thing, even in its worst and most inhumane forms, would be considered a socialist abomination in Fox News’ America. Today’s poorhouses and debtor’s prisons are individual cycles of one financial tragedy after another, where a lost job, bad decision or medical ailment follows us around for years or decades, creating new fiscal problems and perpetuating debt. Most of the time, this follows us – from early adulthood to death – in the form of our credit score.
It works like this – we all start out at a neutral point, where we’re told that we don’t have “bad credit” or “good credit,” just “no credit.” In order to get good credit, we need to get some “good debt” in the form of responsible credit card spending, paying off utility bills and rent and so on. Thanks to loose regulations on credit card companies, predatory lending policies and the idea that spending money, even when we don’t have it, is somehow patriotic (because we have to help the economy) – many Americans, particularly younger ones, end up wracking up a sizeable debt. Even those with a little more fiscal saviness and restraint end up aquiring mountains of debt through things like student loans. All of this negatively affects our credit scores, an arbitrary number that says how trustworthy we are with money.
The New York Times reports that more employers are fighting to use credit checks as part of hiring criteria, even though there is no evidence that states that bad credit means a bad or untrustworthy employee. However, much like the 19th century, public perception has long been that if we’re poor, we lack the moral virtue of industriousness. Thanks to Reaganite welfare queen myths and hand wringing over money spent on other social saftey nets, many chant the mantra of “personal responsibility,” while ignoring the fact that the deck is stacked against the middle to low rungs of the economic ladder. The poor and financially troubled are pariahs – deserving of pity at best – but usually scornful lectures citing bootstrap Horatio Alger legends.
Legislators and others are trying to fight the spread of credit checks as a hiring lynchpin, but big business has mounted resistance. Much of America is in economic ruin, but so long as the bosses, CEOs and shareholders continue to rake in profits, they will have the upper hand. In an era of unprecidented unemployment and the “jobless economic recovery,” many of us bear the scarlet letter of bad credit. If that prevents us from getting a job, how exactly are we supposed to get out of debt?