How Singles Lost WWII (Guest Post by Scott) October 28, 2012Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers, Singled Out.
Tags: discrimination against singles, history of singlism, marital privilege, money and singles, single finances, world war II
Onely likes to post guest pieces by other writers who think about singles’ issues. The views expressed in our guest posts may or may not reflect Onely’s views, but we are always interested to hear from other singles advocates.
Our Copious Reader Scott wrote the following after estimating correctly, in response to this post, that singles spend more than $1 million more than their married counterparts over the course of their lifetimes, thanks to U.S. government policies that privilege people who are married.
How Singles Lost WWII
It’s 1942. The boys are off killing Nazis, and the U.S. industrial war machine is revving up. The resulting labor shortage pushes up wages, making it expensive for the government to procure war materials. Inflation soars over 10%. In response, Congress passes and President Roosevelt signs the Stabilization Act of 1942, implementing price controls to limit wartime wage increases and curtail the inflation. With one swift stoke of the pen, a new era in Marital Privilege is born.
Wait…what? I thought we were fighting Nazis, not singles.
Alas Onelers, it is true. The discrimination against singles begat 70 years ago in this legislation has already cost me something like $100,000 by age 33.
You see, this legislation included a pernicious exception to the limits on increasing employee compensation. It explicitly allowed employers to offer health care packages to employees and their immediate families in lieu of wage increases. As the only practical means left of attracting workers, these plans quickly caught on.
In 1954, the IRS further ensconced this practice by deciding that employer (and only employer) contributions to health insurance purchases are not taxable income. Employers also do not have to shell out payroll taxes on it. All told, they can offer these benefits for about half what they would otherwise cost workers—an enormous incentive to sponsor health benefit plans for employees, their spouses, and their children.
So, here I sit. It may all sound benign on the surface, but please consider that any married coworker, in all other respects identical to me, gets compensated by my company an extra $5,700 per year in health care benefits ($228,000 over a 40 year career). A married coworker with 4 offspring… well, let’s not think about that lest we induce a nervous breakdown.
What ever happened to “Equal Pay for Equal Work”?
It’s tempting to fantasize about how I would spend that cool quarter million. I could finally visit my penpal in Finland—a great friend whom I’ve never actually met. I could go see the Bolshoi Ballet perform “The Sleeping Beauty.” I could hunt wild boars in Siberia and go camping in the Alps. What experiences have I missed out on? What fascinating people would I meet? How would they impact my perspectives and improve my understanding?
On the other hand, I could calculate the years of my life spent working to finance married couples’ luxuries instead of my own. His new golf clubs and her weekend shopping spree at the Mall of America? Yeah, those are on me.
Maybe this all still seems a bit academic. Marrieds and singles are just two large, faceless categories of people. Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting and real if the system were made blatantly personal instead? Imagine a world where governments and employers don’t act as intermediaries but only as enforcers. As a single person, you receive equal compensation but are yourself required to write the check at the end of each year and personally hand it to your assigned married couple (who are already wealthier than you, by the way).
You could ask them how they’ll spend your money this year. Granite countertops in the kitchen? A Mediterranean cruise? His and hers nose jobs?
Supposing the Marital Privilege system was personal and transparent in just such a way… what would really be intriguing is the new relationship. Would you refer to your very own personal married couple as “my betters” or as “my wards?”
Scott is an electrical engineer in Minnesota. A few of his hobbies include reading classic literature, hunting, snowshoeing, weight lifting, drawing portraits, playing piano, and watching ballet. His latest undertaking is to learn Russian.
photo credit: nyaltnews.com