I’m not from New York. I’m from Denver. But I’m in full solidarity with the now worldwide Occupy movement. Some folks say they’re confused about the demands of the occupiers. Well, speaking for myself, here’s mine.

Stop erecting artificial obstacles to non-wealthy people trying to improve their own economic situation.

A long time ago the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

I’m not a religious person, so the language used by Dr. King is not what I would use in my discourse, but it’s a 100% true quote. A society can’t really be said to be free and full of opportunity for all if some folks encounter institutional barriers to any chance for increased prosperity. Some of you may have great ideas of your own on how to remove artificial barriers to success, but I have three in mind.

1.

    Ban employers from performing credit checks on prospective employees

“One’s credit history is a significant indicator of character, of lack thereof – it can point to how reliable they may be as employees” goes the argument defending this practice.

Uh, not really. People can have their credit scores drop for all kinds of reasons. It can be due to bad choices and/or bad circumstances. To assume that all poor credit scores are for the same reasons is just prejudicial and intellectually lazy. It’s yet another example of the just world fallacy
. And even if the scores are due to bad choices, should that sentence anybody of a lifetime of financial desperation and living paycheck to paycheck? You want people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but credit checks as a condition of hiring is the equivalent of strapping a 20-pound weight to the straps.

Besides, if you’re hiring, my credit score is none of your damned business. It does not necessarily reflect on my character. Managing finances and performing a job you’re paid to do are two separate skill sets. The two can go together, but there is no necessary link. If you insist otherwise, please provide documented, verifiable evidence. Not personal evidence, but peer-reviewed studies. Until you do, I will continue to assume you’re using your prejudice here as a fallback.

2.

    Help break the cycle known as the revolving door criminal justice system

Having criminal convictions in your past is evidence of bad choices, but, like negative credit scores, shouldn’t consign one to a life of pauperism.

An article posted on June 14, 2011 in The Informant attempts to shed light on that issue.

Here’s a key piece of that article:

Jessica Flintoft of the San Francisco Reentry Council, says this is a big problem, simply because of how many people these background checks affect.

FLINTOFT: We know that one in four people in California have a criminal record. We know that it’s much higher for African American people, for Latino people, particularly men.

Flintoft, along with members of the San Francisco Reentry Council, Human Rights Commission, and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, helped author a new proposed ordinance that would place restrictions on when employers can consider a person’s criminal history. The ordinance would also extend these restrictions to landlords considering tenants with criminal records.

FLINTOFT: And what we’re asking for is not to have set-asides for ex-offenders, not to force employers to hire ex-offenders. But for employers to give people a fair shot.

There are exceptions for certain jobs and housing that legally require clean backgrounds. But for the rest, the ordinance would ask employers to wait until later in the process to run a background check. Then, it would be up to the employer or landlord to decide whether or not that person’s record would make them a safety concern or interfere with their ability to do the job.

FLINTOFT: So we’re really asking, putting the onus on landlords and employers to have a rational basis for their policies so they can’t just fall back on some prejudice that they may have.

3.

    Ban hiring employers from discriminating against those currently unemployed (such as signs or ads declaring “must be currently employed” or “unemployed need not apply”

Ads like these

http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/now-hiring-but-unemployed-need-not-apply/question-2020761/

have no place in a society that calls itself a land of opportunity. A lot of those declarations are probably from many of the same folks most likely to foist the Bootstrap Speech on you. How such a law banning this can be enforced can be tricky, especially since employers could possibly refuse to hire someone based on their petty prejudices and biases, but give a publicly stated reason they can legally get away with. Still, a law like that on the books with stiff penalties for known violators would send a clear message that this type of discrimination is unacceptable.

Those are just three ideas that, if implemented, can break down artificial, institutional barriers to people improving their economic circumstances. Please offer in the comments other suggestions that you think would help.