Families Are Suffering Because of the Outrageous Cost of Diapers

May 14th 2016

Tricia Tongco

There's no doubt about it – children are expensive.

How much? In 2013, the projected cost of child rearing through age 18 — including food, housing, childcare and education — was $245,340, according to the most recent “Cost of Raising A Child” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Federal assistance programs help poor families with nearly every essential need from housing to health care, but diapers — a product essential to a child’s health — aren't included, as the Washington Post recently reported.

diaper fact

If you have a low income, diapers can be an especially heavy financial burden. Why? Because diapers cost the same no matter how much money you make.

If you divide the amount of money parents spend on diapers by income, you’ll see that those with lower incomes spend a greater percentage of their money on diapers than those with higher incomes.

This data from Bureau of Labor Statistics unpublished Consumer Expenditure Survey paints a clear picture.

Because they make more money, middle-class and wealthy parents can also afford to buy diapers in bulk on Amazon Prime or through a paid store membership at Costco, which saves them money in the long run.

However, lower income families often don’t have the options of buying in bulk or through online delivery due to lack of transportation, capital or credit, access to the Internet, or ability to receive packages.

white house message on diapers

As a result, nearly one in three families struggle to afford diapers for their babies, according to a White House blog post by Cecilia Muñoz.

Muñoz added that in some cases, moms and dads stretch the time between diaper changes to make their limited resources last longer, which can lead to serious health problems for both babies and parents.

So what are the possible solutions?

The White House has launched an affordable diaper program.

In March, the White House announced an initiative to close the “diaper divide” and help provide low-income parents access to more affordable diapers.

The White House has partnered with several diaper companies, such as First Quality, Huggies, and The Honest Company to make more affordable diapers and free shipping available to non-profits.

Over the next year, the program will help distribute 10 to 15 million diapers to low-income communities, according to estimates from The National Diaper Bank Network.

In the past, similar programs have proposed granting money to states so they can donate actual physical diapers to people in need, or a welfare cash assistance program through which diapers could be bought using EBT cards.

Free diapers for everyone

In a recent blog post, political writer Matt Bruenig argued in favor of providing free diapers to everyone:

If you want to offset the costs of diapers for parents of young children, that can be done extremely easily by simply giving every single family with young children a cash payment each month equal to the cost of diapers.

Luke Tate, a special assistant to the president for economic mobility, told the Washington Post that an adequate supply of diapers can cost poor families nearly $1,000 per child each year.

Based on that figure, each family would receive approximately $83/month for every child under 3 in their family. Bruenig outlined the rest of his plan:

According to the 2015 ASEC, there are approximately 15.9 million children under the age of 3 in the US. If you multiply that by the $1,000 per child, that’s $15.9 billion, which is equal to slightly less than 0.09% of GDP.

For a fiscal rounding error, you could give every single family in the country enough money to pay for diapers.

Whatever the solution, one thing is clear – the "diaper divide" is a real, tragic consequence of income inequality that deserves and needs to be addressed.

[h/t Matt Bruenig, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post]