Walter Scott, child support defendant, earned about $800/month

An April 10, 2015 article in The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) by Lauren Sausser titled “Walter Scott dogged by system that ‘criminalizes’ debt” gives some more information about the man who was murdered by police last week. The victim earned $800 per month in 2003, the last year for which data are available. In other words, the guy was roughly at the poverty line with less than $10,000 per year in income. Perhaps he enjoyed some raises since then, but it seems unlikely that he was the kind of defendant that a typical plaintiff would seek out. Yet the $6 billion state and federal child support enforcement apparatus was after him for cash. This was a sensible strategy for the government workers involved. They all got taxpayer-funded paychecks for pursuing Scott, prosecuting him in front of a judge, ordering him to go to prison three times (a defeated parent in South Carolina can be imprisoned if he or she is five days late paying child support in whatever amount might have been ordered by a court), guarding him in prison, etc.

Despite the fact that child support arrears had accumulated during Scott’s various imprisonments (in most states, a convict is supposed to continue to pay his or her plaintiff every month; if the child support cash is not paid while imprisoned, the money must be paid, plus interest, after the child support defendant is released), times during which presumably he had been unable to earn any income, his total debt was only about $18,000. A stated reason for the government to pursue child support defendants aggressively is that it will reduce welfare expenses, but $18,000 isn’t enough to cover the welfare bill of a typical family for very long (consider subsidized housing, Medicaid, food stamps, home heating assistance, school lunches, plus cash assistance such as TANF; total is about $60,000 per year per family in poverty). But in this case the salaries for the government workers chasing him were higher than the total amount sought (and thus presumably far higher than the total amount that anyone could expect to be collected). Let’s consider just one of Scott’s imprisonments. It was five months in length. The South Carolina Department of Corrections says that it spends about $19,137 per year per inmate. So just that single imprisonment cost roughly $8,000 in today’s dollars.

What about the idea that chasing after Scott for cash was somehow good for his children? The studies cited in our “Citizens and Legislators” chapter concluded that children were actually worse off. Here’s an excerpt from the “Children, Mothers, and Fathers” chapter:

“Child Support and Young Children’s Development” (Nepomnyaschy, et al, 2012; Social Science Review 86:1), a Rutgers and University of Wisconsin study of children of lower income unmarried parents, found that any kind of court involvement was associated with harm to children: “We also find that provision of formal [court-ordered] child support is associated with worse withdrawn and aggressive behaviors.” The authors found that informal (voluntary) support from fathers could be helpful to children living with single mothers but court-ordered support, even when the cash was actually transferred, was on balance harmful.

So the taxpayers funded constant harassment and periodic imprisonment of this guy for more than a decade with no conceivable benefit to anyone except some government workers. Now the taxpayers will have to pay for the murder prosecution of the police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back. If a conviction is obtained, taxpayers will have to work extra hours every year so that the government can handle the typical endless rounds of appeals.

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7 Comments

  1. Brian Gulino

    April 12, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

    1

    These policies are a crude, indirect, and ineffective attempt to enforce family planning on poor people. Morally, I have no problem with what government is doing. I make 10 times this guys income, love children, and I got a vasectomy after my second kid. Why couldn’t he have done the same?

  2. Cosmo

    April 12, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

    2

    Wow Brian, congrats on being so f-n amazing! Love the dichotomy on deciding that the policies suck, but you’ve go no problem with it (as long as it doesn’t affect you – am i right buddy?). Sh-t, if more people were just like you, imagine the possibilities!!!

  3. Sam

    April 12, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

    3

    I don’ think Medicaid covers vasectomies.

  4. Stephen K

    April 12, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

    4

    Child support used to be ordered on refusing parents. These days its also part of the divorce process, or used as blackmail against fathers. Being the husband of a mother ordered to pay child support, the court’s involvement was only a burden. We”ve paid what’s ordered and then some. There were also times we had trouble affording it all. We could have managed it all ourselves instead of the court ruining her credit for what amounts to annually paid debt.

    My sister had a father that wouldn’t & couldn’t pay. Pursuing him would have been useless. However, the relationship and support which was retained of the grandparents by not completely ruining his life was substantial.

    Should some justice be served? Likely, but what good would it do them? How about instead we allow parents to sell these debts to those who are best at collecting them. The US outlawed debtors prisons ages ago.

  5. paul kramarchyk

    April 12, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

    5

    Put an end to child support hassles. Abortions should be free, on demand, and mandatory unless you have an “I may have a baby license.”
    License Requirements
    — Male applicants must meet all of the following:
    1) Six figure IRA (or equivalent net worth by GAAP)
    2) Negative test for inherited genetic variants that have been shown to cause certain health conditions (see list appendix A.)
    3) Currently serving under honorable conditions, or an honorable discharge from one of the five military services
    — Female applicants must meet all of the following:
    1) Swear or affirm you have never considered the practice of “astrology” as anything but an ancient myth and of no predictive value whatsoever.
    2) Given a police lineup consisting of Ronald Reagan, George Clooney, Steven Weinberg, and Charles Manson, you can identify the person with a Nobel Prize.
    3) Full FBI background check required if you have a tattoo that reflects serious bad taste and would be exposed in a sleeveless evening gown.

    fyi.. If I were Czar, this would not be a joke. There is something to be said for arranged marriages. Population growth and evolution are going the wrong way.

  6. mark

    April 13, 2015 @ 11:49 am

    6

    Present day policies are bad, but Paul’s ideal policy is terrifying.

  7. paul kramarchyk

    April 13, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

    7

    Full blown eugenics are inevitable. No one with a pulse today will live to see it. But premarital genetic testing is already common for enlightened couples. A few examples are here http://goo.gl/PCKTpu and here http://goo.gl/gw1xVf. There are many more.

    Human kind will either voluntarily control its numbers, or the immutable laws of nature will do it through starvation and resource wars. (If Iraq grew bananas we would not be there.)

    There are sea bottom fossils on the upper reaches of Mt. Everest (29,000 ft). Best estimate is that Mt. Everest formed over a period of 60 million years (Cenozoic) as the Indian plate collided with Asia. Homo sapiens has only been around for about 200 thousand years. A mere wink in geologic time, or about an Empire State Building’s worth of Mt. Everest.

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