Emmett Pinkston served in the military for 30 years, first in the Marines, then in the Air Force, then in the Army. He helped coordinate security for President George W. Bush during the G8 Summit on Sea Island, Ga., in 2004, and worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq from 2005 to 2007, some of the deadliest years of the war.

But when he tried to get a job as an airport security worker in 2011, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration turned him down, citing a credit report that showed him $8,000 in debt.

To Pinkston's disbelief, the TSA described him as a potential security risk. "They said there was a possibility that I would be vulnerable to bribes to let people through the gate," he recalled. "I was absolutely no security risk to any airport or port or any operation in this country," he added matter-of-factly.

The wide use of credit checks by employers has kept many Americans out of work, contributing to the country's epidemic of joblessness and possibly leading to discriminatory hiring practices, according to a new report by Demos, the New York-based policy and advocacy organization. In essence, the debts incurred during the recession have prevented people from getting back on their feet and paying back what they owe, trapping them in a vicious cycle of debt and unemployment.

In a survey conducted last year, Demos interviewed more than 1,000 low and middle-income households carrying credit card debt for three months or longer. "Among job applicants with poor credit, one in seven were advised they would not be hired because of their credit," said Amy Traub, the author of the report.