What would you do if you won the big one?
It's the American dinner-party question that won't die. Maybe because its answer usually involves an element of delicious bravado. "I'd walk right into my boss's office and . . ."
accountants on call, a Saddle Brook, N.J., firm specializing in placing temporary accounting and bookkeeping personnel around the country, wondered if people really would quit their jobs. So they commissioned the Gallup Organization to conduct a survey as part of aoc's "Profiles of the American Worker" series. The poll had a single question with a multiple-choice answer:
"If you suddenly became financially independent by winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance, would you continue to work full time at the same job, work full time at a different line of work, work part time, start your own business, or never work again?"
Shortly after the poll was conducted, Leslie C. Robins, 30, a Wisconsin junior high school teacher, won the $111 million multi-state Powerball lottery in July. Afterward, he insisted he'd be back at work in the classroom come fall, just like before.
Yeah, right, say several Maryland Lotto winners.
"Our experience has been that most of the people do continue to work but only for a short time," says Elyn Garrett-Jones, spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery Agency, "While they don't change, others around them do. Their co-workers start wondering why he or she is still working when they don't need the money, that someone who needs it should have the job."
Michael Rogers of Sparrows Point, 39, a $3 million Lotto winner in April, says: "After a while, some guys started looking at you funny. If you worked a Saturday or overtime, they'd say, 'Why do you want to do that? You don't need the money.' I think they don't really mean to hurt. But it bothered me. I'm a working man. I'll quit work when I want to quit work."
18 percent would quit
In the just-released Gallup survey, 27 percent of the 668 adults polled said they would work full time in the same job; 28 percent said they would start their own business; 22 percent said they would work part time; 4 percent said they would go full time in another line of work; 1 percent had no answer; 18 percent said their reaction would be "To heck with work, I'm out of here" -- also known as "I quit."
The Martin family won almost $12 million in the Maryland Lotto in May 1991. Their current work situations bear out those findings.
Lester Martin, of Fairfield, Pa., had the winning ticket but shared the prize with his two adult sons, David and Carroll. The three each get annual payments of more than $196,000 before taxes for 20 years.
"I'm still working at my same job," says David Martin, 41, manager at the Beck Manufacturing Inc. plant in Greencastle, Pa. "I just feel comfortable doing it. I never considered not working.
"The money hasn't meant much change in my life at all, except that we moved from Fairfield to a new house in Waynesboro."
Mr. Martin says his father, who had said in 1991 he had no intention of retiring, still is a supervisor at Beck, a plumbing parts manufacturer, but has cut back from full-time work to part-time.
As for his older brother, who was public works director for the city of Emmitsburg when financial independence struck: "Carroll has retired," Mr. Martin says.
By geographical area, Maryland fell into the "south" region where one in four of the people polled said, "Sure, count on it. We'll still show up in the morning in our same old job." The "workaholic" region was the "east" where more than 34 percent said they would keep the same job.
"My husband turned in his winning ticket on a Monday morning and went to work that afternoon," says Carol Mertz. "The same thing happened the day he got his check."
Too much fun to quit
In July, Charles Mertz, who retired 8 1/2 years ago from Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., won a $1.5 million Maryland Lotto jackpot. But selling cars four days a week at Tate Chrysler-Plymouth in Frederick, his post-retirement job, was too much fun to quit.
"I came in three years ago to buy a van and I got a job," says Mr. Mertz, 68. "I bought the van, too. Still got it. I need to keep working. I enjoy it. I'm here as long as they'll have me."
Mrs. Mertz says she hasn't worked outside the home "for some time" so her work routine has been unaltered by the winning ticket.
"Everything is about the same for us," she says. "We've had no crank calls, only well-wishers. Of course, we didn't win $10 million."
Creola and Charles Fawley did. In March, the month Mr. Fawley turned 62.
After splitting the prize with their two daughters and fending off eager investment counselors (they got their own, thank you), the Fawleys, of Myersville, set about deciding about the rest of their lives.
Mr. Fawley, a master plumber, is a plumbing inspector with Frederick County.
"I had already retired -- I was a registered nurse for 41 years -- so it wasn't an issue with me," Mrs. Fawley said. "My husband enjoyed what he was doing. He said, 'I think I'm going to work a little longer.' "
Their two daughters, a secretary in a law firm and a second-grade teacher, decided they also would keep working.
"Our life hasn't changed a lot," Mrs. Fawley says, "except we're a lot more secure."
Ah ha. The real freedom that winning lots of money can provide: freedom to choose, whatever the choice may be.
On Sept. 30, Mr. Fawley will retire. Before the winnings (about $160,000 a year as their third), he had planned to work until 65 but now he's satisfied with the "little longer" time he has stayed on the job.
"Anything magic about that date?"
"No," Mrs. Fawley says. "He picked it so the other two inspectors would have time to get all their vacation in."
Mr. Fawley had the financial freedom to choose to be a nice guy.
So did Michael Rogers, but his opportunity to choose developed in an ironic way.
When he and his wife, Carolyn, accepted their first check for $96,750 after taxes, Mr. Rogers, an oiler on heavy equipment, said this money wouldn't change things for him, that he would "go crazy" if he quit work.
Then, in June, he says, "The company was having a slow period. They asked some people if they would take some voluntary time off. They came to me first, figuring I could afford it more than most."
His "voluntary layoff" still is in effect, Mr. Rogers says.
"I hope to go back to work pretty soon," he says. "After four months off, I'm about ready to go nuts."
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
The Gallup-gathered statistics from the poll asking "What would you do if you won the big one?" were extrapolated into categories such as sex, age, education, race, occupation, work status, household income, labor union membership and region.
* Men were more likely than women to say they would start their own businesses; women were more likely to say they would work part-time.
* Older workers generally favored the "work no more" category. Younger workers would want to start their own businesses.
* People in professional and business occupations were more likely to continue full-time in the same job than clerical and sales people.
* There were no significant differences in responses by education, income or marital status.