Here’s what I Paid in Taxes in 2019. What Did You Pay?

By now, many of you have read the New York Times’s longform investigation on President Donald Trump’s tax records and/or their short distillation.

It’s worth remembering that the median household income in the United States is $61,937:

After the Times’ pieces were posted, I wrote this Tweet.

As I’ve written in my article on having had three failed adoptions, one reason I waited to have children was because of the feeling of dread I had, after watching my mother, that no amount of education and intelligence could protect you from being underpaid and exploited if you were a Black woman with children.

I also distinctly remember moments from my own childhood where those fears came to life vividly. I remember going to the local station with a gas can to buy a quarter’s worth of gasoline to run the mower. The guys running the station laughed at me because I wasn’t looking at the meter and I was still trying to get gas out when a quarter bought…well, not so much. (Still, more than it does now.)

I remember the look of fear — that’s the only way I can describe it, fear — when I told my Mom that she had to pay $15 for a calculus textbook I had “bought” (meaning, promised she would pay for) on impulse after she sent me to an expensive summer enrichment program in PA. That $15 was gas money. (It’s $40 in today’s dollars.) I’m glad we made it home.

Being working-income means being routinely humiliated in America, even if you are hardworking and thrifty.

I am no longer working-income, but I live in a predominately working-income neighborhood, and I carry with me the lessons of hard work and the fact that it doesn’t always pay the way it should.

SO: I wanted to share my taxes with you — to explain how I made my money and spent it, and what I paid in taxes. You can compare it to the President’s taxes yourself.

Explainer of my 2019 taxes by the numbers:

  1. $174,074 was my W2 salary. Some salary was excluded as pretax retirement savings. (I’m now aggressively saving for retirement including the “catch up payments” you can do at age 50+.)
  2. The $236 was an automatic disbursement from a retirement “account” that accrued from a short term job. Like a 1 week gig that was booked as a 1 week gig so I never expected retirement. But hey.
  3. I had a business loss for my LLC of $35,084. No, I did not spend any money on haircuts and clothes. This was rent I paid for my home office; web hosting; a new web design; computer and audio equipment purchases; and staff. 2019 was a building year. I spent down my own money to lay the groundwork for launching Our Body Politic and doing book research. Legit expenses. Some years I’ve had an independent business salary of $60k+ in addition to a full time job. Other years are like this. Again: not a bad thing. Just a thing.
  4. Taxable income: $126,951

5. (Page 2) Taxes I owed as a single woman (higher in general, though not always, than a married filer) on that $126,951 — $24,643

6. The last adoption tax deduction, $4,082, for my third failed adoption. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about writing down SOME of the expenses from failed adoptions. Tax law is here. (There is a limited deduction for unsuccessful adoptions). My article on my journey is here.

7. Given the adoption tax deduction, the taxes I owed — or, put another way, my equivalent to President Trump’s $750 — is $20,561.

8. From my Day Jobbe and freelance work, I actually withheld $35,658. I have learned the VERY hard way to over-withhold for taxes. I know that a lot of people say it’s better to pay, because you have the money up front. But I’m not that kind of person and I like getting money back vs. owing a big check.

9. I am owed a refund of $15,073.

10. I filed an extension and filed later than most, on 7/27/20. So I haven’t gotten my refund yet, in large part because taking the adoption credit requires filing on paper, and those returns are a lot slower to process than electronic ones. I should be able to go back to electronic next year.

I just wanted to share this to put taxes into context. And I’d like those of you willing to help us share your own tax journey on our new radio show.

As mentioned, I’m creator and host of the radio show/podcast Our Body Politic, centering the political and cultural power of Black women and all women of color. And as part of our next show, we want to hear from you what you made and paid in taxes. You can do that by recording a voice memo on your phone, and emailing it to (Voice memos sound a LOT better than voicemails. Here’s some tips on recording voice memos.)

My voice memo would be: “I’m Farai. I live in Brooklyn, New York. I work for a foundation and also do freelance journalism. I earned $126,951. I paid $20,561 in federal taxes.”

Hopes this helps put the news in context. And I hope you can help us do it too!


Host/Creator, Our Body Politic

Radio show/podcast “Our Body Politic” @ Covered every Presidential election 1996–2020. Books include “The Episodic Career.”

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