Bad Old Days – HumbleDollar

I RECALL PAYDAY IN 1961, when I was at my first job. There was a paymaster who would deliver our paychecks. At break time, we would be off to the nearest bank to cash our checks. I deposited most of mine in a savings account, plus $2 in my Christmas Club account. But many of my fellow workers took the whole check in cash.

I always thought taking cash was a bit risky. I once got up the nerve to ask a few friends why they took cash. One told me that, once home, he placed the cash in envelopes designated for various bills and then paid those bills in cash.

Another friend said he didn’t want his wife to know how much he made. He gave her an allowance and kept the rest. This was especially important when overtime pay was involved. The extra cash was not, in his view, part of the family’s finances. I later realized this was a common attitude. Whatever the man earned was his money.

Remember, this was 61 years ago.

A few years later, the paymaster was gone and checks were mailed home. There was near panic in some parts of the company as workers scrambled to change the address where the checks were sent. Many designated their work address.

Those of us in employee benefits earned the ire of the unions when we decided to mail group term-life insurance certificates to each employee. It never occurred to me that not only did many spouses not know the amount of insurance in force, but also many didn’t know there was life insurance. The insurance was equal to one-and-a-half-times base annual pay. In a few instances, we created family strife when it was learned the spouse wasn’t the beneficiary.

This—what I call pure selfishness—extended beyond pay. Before the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, a worker had total control over his pension, married or not. To maximize his benefit, it was normal for workers to take a single-life annuity. But ERISA required that, if married, the pension would be paid as a joint-and-survivor annuity, unless the spouse waived her right.

I welcomed that change not only because it was fair, but also I was tired of receiving calls from new widows looking for their pension and having to tell them there was none. “But my George told me I would get everything I deserved” carried a double meaning, alas.

In 1984, the Retirement Equity Act created the qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) and added a new wrinkle to the male-dominated “it’s mine, I earned it” attitude. Now, it was clear a spouse was entitled to a portion of the worker’s pension and other retirement income benefits—that they had earned the money together.

This change was a real shock to some workers and retirees. I received more than one threat from workers faced with the prospect of losing a portion of their pension to an ex-spouse. One older retiree showed up at the building with a gun when his pension was cut in half. He had ignored the QDRO that had been filed, and I had no choice but to enforce it.

Thankfully, those one-sided days of handling family income are long gone—I hope. Many of us, me included, dislike excessive government regulation. But there are times when society needs a push to do the right thing.

Read more by Richard Quinn

Source: Bad Old Days – HumbleDollar

6 comments

  1. When I was in the navy in mid-80’s you could get paid in cash. The ship’s Disbursing Officer (“the Disbo”) had a .45 on the table while they were doling out pay. They had an escort with a shotgun with them when they made their bank runs. It was like something you’d see in a WWII movie.

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  2. My wife mentioned that my pension is bigger than hers. I responded that my pension –is– hers (and vice versa). I could have opted to take my pension as a lump sum… but not without her knowledge and approval.
    Instead, –we– opted to receive an actuarially reduced pension so the survivor would continue to draw the same amount, for my pension and for hers.*

    Her brother learned the other side of the same lesson. Even though he had divorced and remarried, his ex-wife received half of his Coast Guard pension (and full health benefits.)

    As it should be, in both cases.

    *Not sure, but I don’t think her pension was actually reduced, as I am five years older, and not expected to outlive her.

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    1. When you elect a survivor annuity there is usually a basic reduction which is then adjusted up or down for age difference.

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  3. I always looked forward to payday in the old days when the checks were handed out. That was a great feeling and years later when pay shifted to direct transfer to credit union or bank, I lost that great feeling of a check in hand. I didn’t pay attention to the other guys and whether they considered their pay as theirs as opposed to the wife and family. I did notice a couple of guys always had their wives drive up to get their check with some small kids in tow. I figured it must be time to buy groceries or something. I wish I could recover that great payday feeling once again but I think it is gone forever.

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    1. Many years ago, my grandpa loved getting his SS check in the mail. It just felt good to him. Then he would promptly drive many miles past several grocery stores to one that had a weekly $200 cash drawing for his chance to win. He never did. He was always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. My grandma wrote in her diary how it was so destabilizing to the family. Her oldest son, my uncle only went to school through 8th grade. He was tired of starting over with new towns and make friends, then lose them. A harsh lesson for all, my dad included.

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  4. Back in the day, my wife was paid in cash, weekly, when she worked at Kmart. The corporate logic was that the employees would spend their pay in the store before they left for the day just picking up a few things. And they did too.
    I always considered my paid “our money”. I worked shift work for the money and benefits. She worked jobs that allowed the best child care opportunities/ work schedules so that she could be home when she needed to be. I just happen to have the better paying job and that is just how things worked out.

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