There is a tide in the affairs of men, says the Bard, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Many students, whose incomes have been on the ebb for the past few years, have found good tidings in the new tax law.
A few may claim to regret the passing of the new bill. indeed, its birth has killed one of the college man's best ploys for impressing his friends. And accompanying it to the grave has gone many a student's vacation. Still, only a few weep at the funeral.
Gone are the days when September dining halls were filled with tanned faces smugly narrating summer experiences, and murmuring over their teacups, "Had a wonderful little job this summer. Earned $300 a month. But it was frightfully boring! I finally quit and spent the rest of the summer relaxing."
This ruse fooled only those who hadn't worked during the summer and those who had worked at piddling jobs that brought in $30 to $40 in a good week--those who had never thought of earning over $600 in a college year.
Frustration Every Summer
But to the many students who had or could have earned well over $600 with summer and term earnings the smug tale was all too often a very familiar story. As likely as not it was their story too. They had faced the frustration--in spite of the forced vacation--of giving up several hundred dollars that could have made their college year more enjoyable--just to save their parents a tax exemption. They too had occasionally wondered why parents had to be one of the hardships of a minor's life. But the ruse went unabashedly on.
For many years an iron bound internal revenue clause has stated that a parent would lose a $600 dependency exemption on any of his children who earned over $600 in a year. For those in the higher income brackets this could be a sizable figure. But the law hurt perhaps most deeply those in the lower income strata whose children really did have to work their ways through college.
In the $200 yearly income bracket, for example, one $600 exemption should make a difference of $133. In the $5000 brackets, the difference could be $140 or more. $130 to $150 seems like a small amount; but it can often be a huge sum for families in the below $5000 income bracket who are trying to help their sons through college.
According to a yearbook survey taken three years ago, 21 percent of Harvard students' parents are in this group. Altogether, over 50 percent of University students--coming from families earning from below $2000 to almost a million dollars a year--work at some time during the year.
Therefore, the new tax law which President Eisenhower signed on August 15 came as a welcome relief to harried student self-supporters. Under the new provisions, retroactive to January 1 of this year, a student may earn as much as he is able without his parents losing the right to count him as a dependent on their income tax returns. On the other hand, if he does earn over $600 he must file and pay tax on the remainder. When he does this he is permitted another exemption for himself. In effect, therefore, a student is allowed a double exemption.
There are several rules and conditions surrounding this right. The dependent child either must be under 19 years old or else must attend school during some part of at least five monts during the tax year. Most important, a very definite "iron-clad" rule says that a parent must still pay half of Junior's expenses to claim him as a dependent. This provision is almost tissue-paper thin. Half of Junior's expenses to claim him as a dependent. This provision is almost tissue-paper thin.
The original pressure for this bill came primarily from the eastern seaboard colleges. One story claims that the movement never would have started if, in the summer of 1951, one of the bright young men from an Eastern college--faced with unemployment for the summer--had not hit upon a new approach to the problem. After being turned down a half dozen times by employers who feared he would leave them before the summer was over lest he top his $600 limit, he abandoned his role as "College Student Seeking Summer Employment."
Instead he hurried home, stripped off his oxford shirt, rep tie, and cord suit, and dressed in his oldest dungarees, T-shirt, and battered loafers. Later that afternoon, posing as a boy just out of high school, he landed a $65-a-week job with a construction company. Nine weeks later, having made his $600, this young fellow quit his job and put his tie back on.
More and more alarmed by such stories, which were constantly growing bigger and more clever, college student employment heads determined to do something about the situation. In the middles of December, 1951, at a meeting held on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, Minot C. Morgan, then head of the Student Employment Agency of Princeton, was delegated to pressure Congress for revision of this part of the tax law. With heavy Harvard backing, Morgan called up an old friend whom he had met when he was mayor of Princeton--Congressman Charles L. Howell, of New Jersey.
Morgan explained to Howell the committee's objections to the then extant $600 limit tax law, describing how it stifled initiative, hindered the student who is perhaps most to be commended from helping himself, and handicapped college scholarship and loan boards, which could use their funds to provide more people with educations if students could cut down their scholarship needs by employment.