News & Commentary

November 19, 2017

Twenty states suspend people’s professional or driver’s licenses for falling behind on student loan payments, according to the New York Times.  Licensing laws developed as government losses from student loans rose rapidly, hitting the billion-dollar mark in the 1980s.  Texas and Illinois were the first states to enact licensing laws, and the Department of Education recommended that other states follow suit.  Today, 19 states allow the government to seize state-issued professional licenses, while South Dakota suspends driver’s licenses.  Both measures create major barriers to employment.  While the total number of people who have lost their professional or driver’s licenses is difficult to determine, the Times discovered at least 8,700 cases.  The increased use of this aggressive measure comes as student debt levels are rapidly rising.  Student debt is now the second largest source of household debt.  Supporters of licensing laws claim that these measures benefit taxpayers because many student loans are backed by state or federal government guarantees. Critics claim that these laws essentially force borrowers into financial ruin.

This week, Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier introduced legislation to combat sexual assault within Congress.  Sexual harassment has been an ongoing problem in Congress, with harassment settlements costing Congress $17.2 million over the past two decades.  The Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act would require sexual harassment training and change the process for filing complaints.  The current system requires staffers to go through mediation and counseling with their employing office before they can file a complaint.  During mediation, staffers must sign a confidentiality agreement, promising to keep all communications and documents private.  The proposed bill would make counseling and mediation optional, and impose a filing deadline of 180 days after the alleged harassment. The bill would also require employing offices to allow complainants to work remotely or take a paid leave of absence if requested.  Both paid and unpaid workers would be covered by the proposed bill.

NPR explored the persuasive employment discrimination Native Americans face, and the ways in which tribes have worked to combat the effects of discrimination.  According to a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, approximately a third of Native Americans said they have been discriminated against in the workplace while seeking employment, equal pay, or promotions.  The poll also revealed that nearly two thirds of respondents said job prospects in majority Native areas were worse than other locations, and a similar amount said they were paid less than their white counterparts for the same jobs.  In response to these disparities, Diane Kelly, the executive director for career services for the Cherokee Nation, worked to find employment opportunities for Cherokees.  The Cherokee nation, which employs over 11,000 people, has made a concerted effort to hire from within the tribe.  These efforts have not only created jobs, but led to increased economic power for tribes.

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