The Perils of Louella:

Chapter 198: Louella Adds It All Up

by A.C. Cherbonnier
       LOUELLA surveyed her class. No longer surly and obnoxious, they were looking at her as she imagined hungry baby birds looked at their mother. I might be exhausted, but I think I’m getting to them! Louella exulted as she distributed photocopies she’d paid for at Kinko’s.
       “Today we’re going to do a little budgeting.”
       “Budget?” blurted Reggie. “You mean, like where money goes?”
       “Right! Now take a look at the sheet you just got. See where it says ‘hourly wage’?”
       “Uh huh.”
       “How much do you expect to earn per hour at your first job out of high school? In today’s dollars?”
       “Uh--ten dollars?”
       “No, no!” said Louella. “I don’t earn much more than that.”
       “No way!” said Sandra. “I thought you’d be rich, what with your clothes and Coach purse and all.”
       “Not me!” said Louella. “But we’re talking about you guys, okay? Let’s say you get $6 an hour. Fill that in.” They scribbled. “And how many hours a week would you be working?”
       Lenny raised his hand. “I know! I know! Forty-five!”
       “Not quite,” said Louella. “That’s a little more than most people work. Yes, James?”
       “Ain’t it forty?”
       Louella nodded. “Write that in,” she instructed, “and now multiply forty by six.”
       Some of the kids looked confused; others chewed on their pencils. “Come on, guys! It’s just simple multiplication! You can do it! How much is four times six?”
       “Twenty-four?” asked Tamarra.
       “Right! Good! And if you multiply forty times six, you end up with 10 times more--and how much is ten times twenty-four?”
       “I got it! Two hundred and forty!”
       “Right, Damon! Do you all see how he got that?” Some of the nods were uncertain. Louella did the problem on the chalk board.
       “Okay, and now how many weeks are in a year?”
       It took a while to arrive at fifty-two. “Now multiply fifty-two times two hundred and forty,” she challenged.
       “I can’t do that!” cried Jacklin. “Man, you be dumb!” retorted Kevin, who usually outpaced the others because he was a transfer student from Massachusetts.
       “Okay, Kevin, do it on the board, but explain what you’re doing every step of the way.” He gave a little power salute as he took the chalk and worked the problem. “So that’s it?” he asked. “A lousy $12,480 a year?”
       “Right,” said Louella, “and that’s before they take out the taxes and social security and medicare.” She had them subtract 22 percent.
       There was a lot of groaning and pain before the class arrived at the answer: $9,635. “Oh, man! That’s plain awful!” groaned Kevin.
       “Well, you’re just starting out,” reminded Louella. “But could you live on your own with this money? Support a baby? Remember, at minimum wage you probably wouldn’t get health benefits.”
       Slowly the kids shook their heads. “Not a chance,” said Jacklin. “You can’t live on that! You’d need two jobs!”
       The bell rang. “Tomorrow we’ll figure out how much it’s going to really cost you to live on your own,” said Louella. “And you’re going to be shocked, let me tell you.”


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This story was published on June 28, 2000.