For Many, Diapers are a Luxury Item

Illustration for article titled For Many, Diapers are a Luxury Item

Diapers are political. An obvious and absolute necessity for the first few years of a child’s life, diapers should be both accessible and affordable, but for poor families across America, they are neither. Now, the White House is looking to address the problem. Last week at SXSW, President Obama introduced a new White House initiative meant to address the “#diapergap,” more specifically the rather staggering sum of money poor Americans pay for baby diapers every year.

Part of the problem is while food stamps and WIC covers the costs necessities like formula and food, neither of the programs cover the expense of diapers. According to Glamour, poor families pay roughly $938 a year for diapers, a cost that’s disproportionately higher than what middle-class and upper-class Americans pay. That cost is driven up by the inability to buy diapers in bulk, “because of all the barriers that prevent low-income families from partaking in online subscription services,” Luke Tate, Special Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility on the White House Domestic Policy Council, told Glamour. He added:

“Even with the deals available at big box stores, low-income families are shut out. This may involve a bus ride with kids in tow, you can only carry so much, the bus may only run every half hour or hour. And without a car or ready access to transportation, you go to your local corner store where folks are paying up to 50 cents per diaper.”


Fifty cents per diaper is a shockingly high number, with subscription services like Amazon Prime and delivery, diapers can average out between 11 and 17 cents per diaper. But all of those services require credit. Cloth diapers, too, can be a way to reduce costs, but again, the cost to invest upfront can be substantial. Burdensome costs can lead parents to stretch the time between diaper changes, leading to unintended (but nevertheless serious) health consequences.

In an attempt to bridge the diaper cost gap, Obama outlined a public-private partnership that will essentially provide support to non-profits who are already engaged in providing much-needed baby supplies. “Diapers are really expensive,” Obama said. He added:

“We’ve actually set up a system whereby through social media and the Internet, non-for-profits are able to make bulk purchases of diapers, save 25 percent on those, so that they can distribute them to low-income moms and families. And it’s a convergence of diaper makers and logistics companies and Internet companies.”

On top of calling on donations from diaper manufacturers (many have already responded with large donations), the program seeks to address the issue of bulk storage. Many of the non-profits already working simply need more space to store their diaper purchases; the greater the bulk order, the less the cost of the individual diaper. So, the President is calling on retailers to donate space for storage as well.

Norah Weinstein, co-founder of Baby2Baby, one of the partnering non-profits told Glamour that the initiative was “incredibly historic,” particularly since the cost of diapers has a greater economic effect on women:

“The diaper gap is symbolic of a cyclical problem,” Weinstein explains. “Daycare and state-funded preschools require a certain number of clean, disposable diapers” to accompany every child enrolled in their programs. “Many families don’t have access to that,” she continues, “Then, the child cannot be in daycare, so they’re losing that educational experience. But also, that parent, typically the mom, then cannot go to work. The lack of diapers is directly stopping her ability to go to work and her potential employment opportunities. There are people who want to say something critical about those who cannot afford diapers, but there are many hard-working men and women who want to get back to work and can’t because of a lack of diapers.”


Cecilia Munoz, Director of White House Domestic Policy Council, said that the #diapergap program was part of the President’s approach to moving more Americans into the middle class. “The President asks us to be as creative as possible,” Munoz said.

Image via Getty.

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The not-being-able-to-buy-in-bulk issue (for anything, not just diapers) is one that so many middle/upper class people don’t understand. The first time my husband visited my family, he was appalled when my dad bought a single role of paper towels from the grocery story. Later, he whispered to me “I thought money was tight? Don’t they know they could get paper towels so much cheaper?”

But...they live in a rural community, so even getting to a Walmart (let alone CostCo or something like that) is difficult (I just googled it, and the closest Walmart is 121 miles away). Plus, even buying the “better deal” larger packages at the store is not feasible...when you have $20 in the bank, and you need paper towels, you are going to buy the cheapest ones even if they are a bad deal rather than blow all your money on paper towels to last you a long time.

I’m glad that people are working to solve this problem, especially with something so important as diapers.