If it’s expensive to be poor, it’s even pricier to be a poor parent.
Nearly one in three families in the US struggle to afford diapers, according to government reports.
On a dollar-to-dollar basis, low-income families often spend twice as much as wealthier families who have access to bulk and discount options.
It has become easier for middle- and upper-class consumers to get great deals, thanks to membership discounters like Costco and online recurring orders from services like Amazon (which offers 20% off on diapers for Prime members). These deals are out of reach for most low-income families — but allow more well-off families to significantly cut their diaper budget.
Meanwhile, poor families looking for deals often lack the cash needed to buy in bulk, contributing to a vicious cycle of paying more for necessities and then lacking the finances to buy the same items on sale or in greater quantity. Federal aid to low-income families overlooks the necessity of diapers, as food stamps cannot be spent on them and Medicaid doesn’t cover their purchase.
It means diapers are costing the poorest fifth of families in America nearly 14% of their after-tax income. Families in the middle quintile spend less than 3%, while the richest spend just 1%, reports the Washington Post.
The issue has has drawn a response from policy makers, although many efforts to make diapers more affordable have faced major roadblocks and public mockery.
The Diaper Investment and Aid to Promote Economic Recovery (DIAPER) Act was criticised for turning the US into a “nanny state” by conservatives when introduced in 2011. Reintroduced last year as Hygiene Assistance for Families of Infants and Toddlers Act, the bill has still failed to gain traction.
There are some recent efforts that may bring about some degree of change.
The White House recently unveiled a program to tackle the “diaper divide” in collaboration with online retailers, diaper makers, and nonprofits. The program allows nonprofits (and soon, all shoppers) to purchase discounted diapers through Jet.com. Diaper makers including Huggies and the Honest Company have also chipped in, with donations to the National Diaper Bank Network.
The diaper issue is part of a wider problem in retail.
While the rise of e-commerce has created a retail environment focused on deals, most of these are aimed at more affluent shoppers. Meanwhile, lower-income households find such deals completely unobtainable — even if they could best benefit from a bargain.
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