By Robert A. Vella

Yes, that’s right folks.  Math hates young people!  I discovered this animosity by accident one day when I overheard a conversation between its four foundational members – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  How else could you explain these two astonishing incidents?

Late last week, I went to my local espresso shop for a coffee.  The charge was $4.25.  I had a $20 bill and some loose change with me but wanted to tip the barista a dollar.  So, I gave her the bill and three dimes ($20.30).  The change should have been $16.05 (I didn’t care about the nickel), but she gave me in return a $10 bill, a $5 bill, and five $1 bills ($20)!  I said to the Millennial, “You gave me twenty dollars.”  She took the money back to her register and gave me instead one $5 bill and 10 $1 bills ($15)!  I said, “No, that’s not right either.”  Then, the other barista stepped in and gave me the correct change.  My head was spinning!

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping.  The checkout clerk was very young, probably a Gen Zer.  The total charge was $86.47.  I gave him five $20 bills and two pennies ($100.02).  The change should have been $13.55, but instead he gave me $15.53!  I knew it wasn’t correct, but I just left without saying a word.  After the fiasco with the barista, I was in no mood to correct another basic math mistake.  But, you can see his error here – he keyed-in the wrong cash tender ($102.00)!

In my opinion, the barista’s brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders for some reason;  and, I forgave her.  However, she should take a lesson in making change using the “count-up method” which is very easy to learn and is pretty much foolproof.  I learned that technique in high school.

On the other hand, the grocery clerk’s mistake was more egregious.  He doesn’t have to calculate the correct change by himself, his cash register does it for him.  I can only assume that he just doesn’t give a shit.  What’s a few dollars here or there, anyway?  Is it really all that important?  Besides, math really hates the little prick;  so, why should he use it?


45 thoughts on “Math hates Young People

  1. The count up method has always been the standard here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and not using it was one of the greatest sins a cashier could commit – even worse than having a grumpy disposition. Unfortunately, it has been in slow decline for a few decades for two reasons: (1) every cash register calculates the change; (2) who uses cash anyway?

    Tipping isn’t practiced here, so no need to have cash for that. EFTPOS has been ubiquitous for decades, and as most banks offer it as a free service, it’s used used for making even the smallest of transactions. Often times it’s cheaper to use EFTPOS than cash. For example an item advertised for sale at $0.99 will cost $0.99 if purchased by EFTPOS, but $1.00 for cash (our smallest value coin is $0.10).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Who uses cash anyway? Me, for one; and, there must be others because cashiers otherwise wouldn’t need a cash drawer. Then, there’s the law. From: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx

      The pertinent portion of law that applies to your question is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled “Legal tender,” which states: “United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”

      This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I know Robert, it really is quite pathetic. I’ve had the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look many times from cashiers. They’re fine if they can key it in on the register, but sunk if there’s any expectation of them doing it in their heads. I wonder, too, if they have to do any ‘mental math’ at school. .. we had to do it every single day in Math class. That plus knowing one’s times tables (up to 12) memorized in the lower grades. .no one does that anymore!! I still prefer to add sums ‘long hand’ rather than use a calculator. . .I figure it’s good brain ballet.

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    • I do the same too, Carmen. Mental exercise sharpens the mind. Whenever somebody tells me that the primary education system is as good today as it was back then, I laugh because it’s obvious that it isn’t.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Let me speak as a GenX cashier. Over the decades, I’ve worked as a cashier in a small store, a grocery store, and now at a parking ramp. Admittedly, I hated math in school, but I did manage to learn basic capacity of addition and subtraction.

    I’m fully capable of making change and I’m almost always accurate, even though I usually do it all in my head and have never used the “count-up method”. I have a fancy computer and could always enter the amount of money given in order to determine the exact change, but I never do that. It’s simpler and quicker to figure it out for myself. It’s not complicated, even when someone gives unusual an unusual amount of cash because they want back a particular kind of change.

    I can’t speak for the younger generations. I did know an older lady who used the “count-up method”, but of the dozens of other cashiers I’ve worked with I’ve never seen anyone else use it. Maybe it’s useful for those who struggle, such as with the examples you point to. The only cashier of the Millennial generation I know at the moment seems to be able to cashier just fine and, like me, he only has a high school education. I’d hope being a cashier doesn’t require an advanced degree in mathematics.

    If it is any comfort in dealing with mathematically-challenged cashiers, you probably won’t have to worry about it in the near future. Besides moving toward a cashless society, we are also moving toward a cashierless society. My job is almost obsolete, not quite but almost. Pay machines are replacing humans in many places.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good for you, Benjamin. Making correct change is part of a cashier’s job, and as you said there are multiple options available to do so. Screwing-up isn’t acceptable.

      As for the future, social change isn’t always positive. A great many people around the world are justifiably concerned these days. When automation replaces human workers, how are those displaced people going to survive? Do we tell them: “Sorry, but corporate profits are more important than your life. If you can’t adapt, then die.”

      Liked by 3 people

      • Automation will replace many workers. I’m more fortunate than most. I’m a unionized government employee. Even if they eliminate my position, they are required to offer me a new position somewhere else.

        But I must admit that my cashiering skill set is of limited value. Many people in the future will find that their skill sets don’t translate well as entire sectors of employment are eliminated. I don’t know if retraining most of the workforce will solve this problem, even if it could be accomplished.

        I suspect, as with the end of Feudalism, a large part of the workforce will simply become useless. If governments and corporations become ever more authoritarian, they aren’t going to invest much money into the public good.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. My first job at age 13 in 1964 was before the day of hand-held calculators and long before the advent of personal computers. I worked as a front desk clerk at a hotel and a cashier at the accompanying restaurant, both of which required me to make change. I learned the ‘count up’ method quickly and never thought twice about it. A while back I was in a grocery store and purchased a few items, gave the clerk a $100 bill, and she was completely at a loss, as their computers were down. I did the math in my head, told her the proper amount of change, and even offered to do the math on paper for her, but no … instead she called the manager. He came, couldn’t figure it out either, so he went back to the office to get his pocket calculator. After a couple of tries he figured it out, his calcs matched mine, and all was well. What the heck are we teaching our young people??? We’re teaching them how to use the gadgetry, but not how to think! What happens when … oh, never mind. Sigh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When I first started working as a cashier for the local city parking department, I worked in a small lot that lacked much in the way of technology. Most of it was done manually.

      There was a register, but it was extremely basic. One time the register entirely broke down and I continued working. I simply did the calculations in my head and then later on, when the register was fixed, I manually entered everything into the system. I didn’t find it difficult, even though it was hectic in dealing with a constant flow of customers.

      The parking department now has a fancy computer system with touch screens, but I prefer the older system that was much simpler. When things break down now, we are forced to shut down and open the gate. The older system was much more reliable. And maybe cashiers back in the good ol’ days used to be more reliable as well.

      We do become dependent upon technology the more we use it. And for many in the younger generations, they have never known anything else. Almost everything operates through some technology or another. That wouldn’t be a problem if the technology always worked perfectly, but we are far from that.

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      • Even if the technology never failed, didn’t depend on such things as electricity and batteries that can fail, I still find it sad and disturbing that we aren’t teaching people how to think these days. Where will the next generation of innovators and leaders come from? Schools and colleges are focusing more on job skills and technology than liberal arts that teach a person to think for himself. It seems that we are ‘dumbing down’ our society … no good can possibly come of that.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Bingo, Jill! We are not teaching kids how to think and that is having repercussions far more profound than just incompetent cashiers. Your experience at the grocery store is telling. Even the store manager is a dumb-ass!

      We’re close to the same age and I too grew up before calculators and computers, although we did have electric “adding machines.” My first calculator was a very pricey Texas Instruments TI-30 which I loved but only used for higher math problems in college and my later professional career. For basic math, it was easier and faster to work out the problems in my head.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Robert. By not teaching them to think, but merely training them to do jobs, where do the next generation of scientists, innovators, the idea men & women, come from? We are developing automatons, not great minds. A few will poke outside the box and go seeking knowledge, but I fear the vast majority will learn skills instead of thought processes. Sigh. Hey! You and I had the same first calculator!!! I think I still have mine somewhere …

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      • There’s been a campaign going on for quite a while in parts of Europe (it started in Scandinavia) to get people to stop using cash. The initial intent was to reduce tax avoidance. In certain countries when paying in cash on was asked “with or without a receipt?” – that actually meant with or without sales tax. The rise of electronic payments has dramatically reduced that phenomena in France and Italy – but Spain, Greece and Portugal are still lagging behind.

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        • Because of the way point-of-sale transactions are conducted in the U.S., the avoidance of sales taxes isn’t an issue. It is an issue for “black market” business, but that’s a different matter.

          Transitioning to a cashless society may sound like a good idea to some, but upon closer inspection it may not be such a good idea. Here are a few concerns:

          Certain businesses (including the espresso shop mentioned above) charge extra for electronic payments.
          In the U.S., cash is legal tender for all debts. Many people prefer it. Changing the law would create a political firestorm of resistance.
          The wholesale elimination of cashiers would put a vast number of people out of work.
          Large financial institutions (i.e. Wall Street) would have tremendously more control over money, and they have repeatedly proven themselves to be untrustworthy as evidenced by the financial crashes of 1929 and 2008.
          There is growing concern over automation, the subjugation of workers and consumers, and the rush towards corporate “efficiency” (i.e. profiteering) all under the guise of offering people easier ways of doing things. When humans’ natural laziness is encouraged and exploited, the value of each individual decreases.


  5. I don’t think schools teach basic math anymore. I see this every time I buy anything – except at my favorite local deli in Hell’s Hitchen. It’s run by an Egyptian (born in the U.S.) family and everyone purchase, no matter what it is, is a whole dollar amount or ends in .50. And they always round down. A $1.50 cup of coffee and a $1.29 pound cake? $2.50. Three $1.25 cans of cat food? $3.50. Very simple, and they have lower prices than the other delis. It’s very popular.

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