William T. Kerr


Historically, the statutory treatment of wage garnishment among the states has been characterized primarily by its diversity. Although most states exempt a specified amount of a man's wage from the reach of his creditors, the dollar levels of these exemptions are as various as the methods chosen to compute the amount to be exempted. In addition, legislators, some union spokesmen and some legal commentators have become increasingly aware of the role of wage garnishment in the "debtor-spiral" of easy credit, discharge from employment, bankruptcy and welfare. Inevitably this spiral involves a disproportionate impact on the poor. Impelled by these concerned groups, Congress enacted the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968, effective July 1, 1970. Yet this law is only one step in ameliorating the impact of wage garnishment and, if it diverts our attention from an eventual prohibition of this device, it is an unfortunate compromise. Bill H.R. 11601, introduced in the House, would have placed an unqualified prohibition upon wage garnishment. The final Act merely raises the level of wage exemption to uniform minimum and restricts to a certain extent the right of an employer to discharge an employee whose wages have been garnished. This is not enough; wage garnishment should be prohibited. In the legislature of at least one state, Michigan, the lawmakers are presently faced with such a proposal and have an opportunity to reconsider the federal compromise.