Chapter 200: Louella Cracks Numbers

by A.C. Cherbonnier
       THAT HOMEWORK you gave us was hard!” wailed Tammara. “I couldn’t get anybody to understand it!” Others in the first period eighth grade math class nodded.
       “That’s the whole point,” said Louella. “Everybody thinks math is hard, but it’s not really. Now, everybody ready for the next step?” Nods all around, and all eyes were on her.
       There was a crackling noise on the intercom, but no sound came on.
       “Okay. Let’s start with that two hundred and six dollars a week you’ll earn on minimum wage. Write it on the form.” They did.
       “Now, I went ahead and looked up on the charts how much federal and state tax you’d have to pay if it was just you living on this money,” said Louella, holding up some tax booklets.
       “You have to read that stuff?” marveled Danae. “No way!”
       “It’s just like everything else--it looks hard until you learn to do it, and then it’s not hard any more,” said Louella, almost smiling. “So now take that two hundred and six dollars a week and subtract fifteen dollars for your federal taxes.”
       “Got it! We’re down to a hundred and ninety-one dollars!”
       “Right! Now take away nine dollars and three cents for your state taxes.”
       James was first. “That’s a hundred eighty-one dollars and--uh--ninety-seven cents, right?”
       “Very good, James! Now let’s figure out how much Social Security you’d have to pay.”
       “Say what? There’s more to take out? That don’t seem right!” said Damon.
       “That’s how it is! Sorry!” I must have a cruel streak to teach them this stuff, thought Louella. “So multiply two hundred and six dollars by this percentage.” She wrote 9.03% on the board and showed it equalled .0903.
       “Man, that be too hard!” complained Winston.
       “Shut up!” called Mayetta. She worked her pencil fast and came up with the answer. “That’s another twelve dollars and seventy-seven dollars! That’s a lot, every single week like that!” The intercom crackled again and made a shrieking noise.
       “And we’re not done yet! Let’s subtract the Medicare contribution, too.” She wrote “$206 x .0145=” on the board. It took a while, but finally Gerard had an answer. “That’s another two dollars and ninety-nine cents!” he said in disbelief. “Now we’re down to only a hundred and sixty-six dollars and twenty-one lousy cents a week!”
       “Excuse me, Miss Preston, but that don’t seem right,” said Winston. “I mean, if you’re on the minimum to start with, how come you got to take out all this stuff?”
       “I agree! That’s not fair!” said Sandra. The class was getting restive. “I mean, how come some rich dude don’t hafta pay more, since he’s got more money? I thought that’s how things worked! Ain’t it supposed to be the more you make, the more you hafta pay?”
       “Sort of,” said Louella. “But what happens is, everybody pays the same rate at each level. So you’re paying the same as the rich guy on the first ten thousand or so.”
       There were groans. “Look, we didn’t even talk about subtracting health insurance yet,” said Louella.
       A disembodied voice boomed over the intercom. “Miss Preston, please report to the office as soon as class is over.” Its tone was cold.


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This story was published on October 4, 2000.