Close to 30 percent of women surveyed in a new study reported diaper need, or having experienced a time when they couldn’t afford diapers for their children.
The peer reviewed study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that when faced with this situation, 8 percent of women had to stretch their diapers when the supply was running short. The inability to change a wet diaper can lead to urinary tract infections and diaper dermatitis, both of which are responsible for more doctor and emergency room visits. Meanwhile, 10 percent of the women who couldn’t afford diapers borrowed them or money from family or friends, 10 percent got diapers from an agency, and 3 percent used some other method such as getting help from a church.
The study also found that Hispanic women are significantly more likely to report diaper need than African-American women, as were women older than 45 compared to those ages 20 to 44. Women who had two to three children living with them were more likely to report the need than women who had just one.
The difficulty of affording diapers stems from the double whammy of high costs and few resources to help low-income parents pay for them. An adequate supply of diapers costs an average of $18 a week per child, the study reports, which comes to $936 per year. A single mother who works full-time making minimum wage will spend more than 6 percent of her gross pay on the expense.
Yet diapers, perversely, are not an allowable expense for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) or the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program that many low-income women rely on. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), formerly known as welfare, allows the purchase of diapers, yet the purchasing power of those benefits has been falling and for the majority of recipients are now worth less than they were in 1996. There are less than 100 diaper banks, which help get diapers to women who can’t afford them, in the country. Early Head Start is the only childcare program that provides mothers with diapers.
Compounding the challenge is that the majority of childcare programs require an adequate supply of diapers in order for children to attend. But women can get caught in a catch-22 if they can’t get childcare coverage, as TANF assistance is tied to attending work or training programs, necessitating childcare. Without those benefits, women will have an even harder paying for diapers. Not to mention that losing work income because of a lack of childcare will compound the problem.
Other costs associated with raising children are already very high. Childcare itself can clock in at as much as $15,000 a year, and the cost of sending an infant and a four-year-old is more than median annual rent in all 50 states. Given that the U.S. doesn’t guarantee paid leave and 40 percent of new mothers only get unpaid time off for a new child, 30 percent borrow money to get through and 15 percent go on public assistance.