Inquiring into Income Equality

As I was mulling over ideas for my grade 8 unit on percents, I stumbled across this graphic from the Centre for Policy Alternatives. It became the hook  for my whole unit. Throughout the unit, each student worked with a unique (randomly-generated) income to calculate their taxes and produce a budget. Having entered their budget in a spreadsheet, students classified their expenses as needs and wants and then generated pie charts to compare the portion of their income devoted to each. Students were able to see right away that some had very little to spend on their wants, while others had a lot of discretionary income, despite their higher tax rates.

Students then modified their income based on one of the statistics in the graphic above and revised their budgets and pie charts to determine the effect of income inequality on women, aboriginal people and those who are visible minorities. It was interesting to see the observations that emerged. Students who had a higher income to begin with generally concluded that income inequality leaves women, aboriginal people and people from visible minority groups with enough to meet their needs but less to spend on their wants; however, some were able to predict what their classmates with lower incomes experienced first-hand: that income inequality affects low-income Canadians most, making it very difficult to meet their basic needs.

Are you interested in trying this with your class? Here are some resources…

  • I used this random number generator to produce a unique income for each student
  • After having students try their hand at calculating their federal and provincial tax liabilities, I let them use this short-cut from Simple Tax.
  • Students created their budget in this Google Sheets template.
  • Guided by this task sheet, students worked through the income inequality exercise. The rubrics in the task sheet are from the IB MYP framework, but could be adapted for use in other schools.
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