Garnishing California’s Future: New Bill Seeks To Curb Wage Seizures

by Bill Raden, Capital & Main

Empty pockets


When the U.S. Census Bureau released figures identifying California as having the highest poverty rate in the nation, the news would not have shocked the 4.8 million low-wage earners at the bottom of California’s income divide. For those single workers and families that subsist paycheck to paycheck, and too often make up the difference by maxing out credit cards or taking out predatory short-term loans, life’s a precarious balancing act even when things go well.

But when unforeseen calamities strike, such as serious health emergencies or the loss of a job, hard-pressed households are left without a safety net. Unable to keep up payments, loans fall into default and too often result in crippling court-ordered garnishments that claim up to a quarter of earnings.

“We see increasing numbers of these families in our legal aid services throughout the state,” the Western Center on Law and Poverty’s Jessica Bartholow told Capital & Main. “People’s lives are being ruined by these very high, 25 percent garnishments — the national maximum — being taken out of their check before they get it home to make sure their kids have shoes and backpacks, to make sure their kids can stay housed.”

In 2013 alone, one out of 10 employees between the ages of 35 and 44 were under some form of wage garnishment across the country, according to a recent study by the ADP Research Institute. And though roughly half of the garnishments were caused by child support, they included consumer, student loan and other debt in judgments that impacted both lower and middle incomes.

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