Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Child Support Is Top Cause of Wage Garnishment

Midlevel, midcareer workers have highest garnishment rates

If your company is a manufacturer based in the Midwest, your midlevel, midcareer workers are most at risk for garnished wages—the legal recovery of debt through the seizure of employee pay. The mid-adult years are most prone to divorce—and child support—the key culprits behind wage garnishment for men, according to a new national study by the ADP Research Institute, an affiliate of payroll services provider ADP.

The September 2014 report, Garnishment: The Untold Story, is based on a study using aggregated, anonymous payroll data from 2013, with a dataset comprised of approximately 13 million employees ages 16 and older. The rate of garnishment was calculated as a percentage of employees having their wages garnished compared to the entire labor force.

In 2013, the garnishment rate across the U.S. was 7.2 of workers, the same as in 2012 and down from 7.6 percent in 2011. Child support accounted for 3.4 percent of wage garnishments, followed by tax levies, bankruptcies and other debts.

“For employers, garnishment presents a challenge of balancing consistent, compassionate care of employees with an obligation to comply with varying wage garnishment requirements,” the report states. “A lack of compliance with garnishment policy can result in significant fines and penalties.” Moreover, “state and lien-type requirements vary widely, and employers must be ready to manage internal processes to meet them.”

Child Support and Gender

Across nearly all regional and industery categories, the same proportion of women and men experienced wage garnishments. However, one category with a sharp disparity was child-support garnishment, which was six times higher for men (females had a 0.6 percent child support garnishment rate while males had a 5.8 percent rate). More women than men have physical custody of children and men are more likely to pay child support.

Child support helps explain why industries employing high numbers of men were more likely to have higher overall garnishment rates, the report noted.

Midrange and Midcareer Workers

Study results showed higher garnishment rates in most categories for workers whose earnings were in the midrange ($25,000 - $60,000). Regarding age, the garnishment rate was highest (10.5 percent) for those in the 35 to 44 age group.

Garnishment Rates by Age

Rates saw a notable increase beginning at age 25 and a notable decrease in the late 50s.

Age Group

Child Support Garnishment Rate

Total Garnishment Rate

16 to 24



25 to 34



35 to 44



45 to 54



55 to 64



65 plus



Source: ADP Research Institute.

One explanation is that workers whose level of compensation tends to fall within the midrange face a variety of life issues that could lead to wage garnishment, including high debt levels and child-rearing responsibilities. Divorce also is most common at this age, and garnishment rates for child support were highest among those earning between $40,000 and $60,000.

Garnishment Rates by Wages

The highest garnishment rates were reported among those earning between $25,000 and $40,000. Child support rates were highest for those earning $40,000 to $60,000.

Compensation Group

Child Support Garnishment Rate

Total Garnishment Rate

$1,500 - $7,499



$7,500 - $14,999



$15,000 - $24,999



$25,000 - $39,999



$40,000 - $59,999



$60,000 - $79,999



$80,000 - $109,999



$110,000 - $199,999



$200,000 plus



Source: ADP Research Institute.

Industries and Regions

The study found that 48 percent of U.S. companies in the manufacturing sector had one or more employees with their wages garnished, followed closely by transportation/utilities—where more employees carried child-support garnishment compared to other industries.

The three industry sectors with the least number of employees having garnishment were financial activities, professional/business services, and education/health services. This disparity indicates a possible link between garnishment and blue- and white-collar categories, the report found.

Garnishment Rates by Industry

The findings suggest a relationship between garnishment and blue-collar job categories.

Industry Sector

% of companies with garnishments



Transportation and utilities






Wholesale and retail trade


Leisure and hospitality


Financial activities


Professional and business services


Education and health services


Source: ADP Research Institute.

The Midwest had the highest number of employees with garnished wages (10.2 percent), and topped all U.S. regions in the child-support and miscellaneous garnishment categories. The South was second highest overall (8.9 percent), and led all geographic sections for bankruptcy-related garnishments. The West (8.5 percent) and Northeast (5.4 percent) had the lowest garnishment rates.

One reason given for increased garnishments in the Midwest and South: they are home to a heavy concentration of blue-collar manufacturing operations.

Company Size

Wage garnishment also increased by size of company, across all industries and regions. Businesses with more than 5,000 employees had the highest tax levy, bankruptcy and miscellaneous garnishment rates. Those with head counts ranging between 1,000 and 4,999 employees had the highest rate of child-support garnishments.

Many large companies—especially those with manufacturing activities—may have a need to employ a large population of blue-collar and other employees that are midrange earners and are experiencing debt, child care and divorce issues, the report noted.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.