Pandemic adds 'black tax' burden on young workers

Thursday February 11 2021

“Black tax” impacts the ability of many to save and build generational wealth. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Ange Iliza

Many young adults find themselves having to juggle limited resources to support themselves and their extended families. The culture, colloquially known as “black tax”, is common in many households and is seen as a way of uplifting future generations.

It is called a tax, not because there is a legal obligation or indictment to it, but a cultural one. “Black tax” is an income young professionals give to their families to support them. It impacts the ability of many to save and build generational wealth.

Such situations leave some young people between a rock and hard place while deciding whether to help the family out even when they do not have enough to give.

In the era of Covid-19, where jobs and sources of income were reduced or lost, the situation has been exacerbated.

The challenges brought about by Covid-19 have created added pressure with the support extending to the broader community given the loss of jobs.

Mutesi, 28, started providing for her family when her mother lost her job last June. Due to Covid-19, the company she was working for had to reduce their workforce.


“From then on, all responsibilities were on me. The fact that I can pay rent makes me proud of myself. I can buy some home groceries and provide everything needed at home. On the other hand, it makes me sad that even the little contribution I am able to give isn’t appreciated much,” she said.

“I can’t financially save for myself at the moment because eventually you have to use the savings. That stresses me a lot.”

She hopes her mother will get a job after the pandemic.

The situation is worse when the sole provider of the family loses their job. It happened to Amani, a 32-year-old who was providing for a family of six on his own. Amani lost his job during lockdown. He was doing field work, which was no longer relevant to the company. He drained his savings for his family to survive during lockdown.

“When the lockdown was lifted, I was completely broke. I have basically spent everything I have worked for on them and it still seemed insufficient. That is when I realised I had to move out. It was a tough decision, but I had to,” he said.

While 2020 was a tough year both socially and financially, for Gloria, 23, it was different. She managed to get a better paying job and none of her parents lost their jobs. But the situation for her was not any different.

“Recently, my mother got a small loan that she told me I had to pay for after she used the money. I have a fixed amount of money I have to give to both my mum and dad right after I get paid, and they request money in the middle of the month. They often tell me I'm selfish yet I spend more than half of my salary on them. That makes me resent them sometimes,” she said.

While many are thankful for the opportunities they’ve received — and want to repay in some form — success can also come with a sense of guilt.

Deborah, 22, is the only provider in her family of four. It has been hard for her during Covid-19 because she is an essential worker. She managed to get promoted and increased her income twofold last year.

“I thought I could afford financing both my life and home, but I was wrong. The more you earn the more the responsibilities you have. Whenever I try to do something for myself, I feel guilty,” she said. “For instance, I am working from home and what I spend monthly on my family has increased by at least 25 per cent due to internet costs."

Rose Kanyange, a business consultant based in Kigali said paying black tax for a long time has a negative impact.

“Demands from family and friends are endless in nature. One needs to prioritise,” she advised.

This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on January 30, 2021.