Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Diapers and poverty


I was annoyed to read an article concerning the inability of poor mothers to pay for diapers.

According to a report published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, diaper need — the inability to afford to keep a child in clean diapers — affects a "substantial" number of low-income Americans, with nearly 30% of mothers questioned in New Haven, Conn., reporting that they did not have enough for their children.

It's a problem that often goes unnoticed.

"I call it the silent epidemic," said Caroline Kunitz, who runs Pacific Palisades-based L.A. Diaper Drive, which will distribute 1.5 million diapers to nonprofit partners around Southern California this year.

. . .

Keeping a young child dry and clean can cost a pretty penny; the average is $18 a week. A single mother earning $15,080 a year in a minimum-wage job would need to devote more than 6% of her pay to diapers, according to the Pediatrics study.

Add in the fact that many lower-income families can't afford to buy diapers in bulk at stores like Costco and Target and the expense becomes prohibitive. Cloth diapers are often not an option because they require frequent and expensive trips to the laundromat.

There's more at the link.

My mom raised four kids using washable cloth diapers, and for a lot of the time didn't have her own washing machine.  There weren't any laundromats, either.  She soaked them in a bucket of detergent for a few hours, which dealt with most of the cleaning and sterilization.  She then stirred them around with a stick (to keep the icky stuff off her hands), lifted them out one at a time with the stick and dropped them into a second bucket for rinsing, after which she hung them out to dry in the back yard.  She could never have afforded an endless supply of disposable diapers, even if they'd been widely available at the time.  When she finally got a washing machine (very like this one, an old circular model with a built-in mangle or wringer) she was overjoyed at how easy it made diaper care.

Why can't poorer mothers today do the same thing?  It's what millions of mothers before them have done - and still do, in poorer parts of the world.  In many of those places there are no purpose-made diapers at all!  I've seen flour or grain sacks, threadbare blankets and sheets, discarded adult underwear, old shirts, and anything else that was available cut up and used for the kids.

How much money could be saved if poorer mothers used washable diapers in the USA?  How many mothers would be able to use the money they saved to feed their kids better?  How many millions of dollars of charity money would be freed to be used for more important purposes?

(As for a 'silent epidemic' . . . not in my experience!  I've found that a kid wanting his or her diaper changed can be downright noisy about it!)

Peter

12 comments:

Murphy's Law said...

Same on that poor mothers get bulk staple food and cook nutritious meals instead of using food stamps to buy processed crap food--Bewcause they don't want to.

Rolf said...

Been there, changed that. Cloth works. Disposables work. The bush behind the shed works. It's all about attitude - if you can't be bothered to work, then you will have an expensive life, and lots to whine about.

wordlet said...

After reading this I found myself wondering the same thing, shouldn't 'reusable' diapers be a no-brainer?

So I googled it, one of the top results:
http://www.whattoexpect.com/forums/hot-topics-1/archives/why-do-people-still-use-disposable-diapers.html

Apparently it's just about convenience, but I don't see it. If you're washing clothes anyway, all you have to do is one more load in the washer (probably don't want to mix diapers with regular clothes). Or if you don't have a washer, handwash it using a method like you've described.

@Murphy's Law
I think processed, or fast food falls in a similar category, convenience. But there's other factors, some people never had parents who knew what the word 'nutritious' meant, or how to determine what foods qualify as 'nutritious'. Some people never even learn how to cook. (My Dad included, my Mom made sure he learned pretty quick though hehe.)

There's also a factor of time. Low income people might be working a lot of hours in multiple minimum wage jobs, when they get home, after working so hard, how can you fault them for wanting to go the easy route with food? I realize that's not always the case, but whenever my parents had fast food (not all that often) it was because they were too worn out to cook.

The diaper thing seems like they're taking the harder, and more expensive route though. Maybe it's just a matter of marketing? You see lots of disposable diaper commercials, but zero reusable diaper commercials.

Anonymous said...

Sib and spouse got a neat kind of reusable diaper for LittleBit. The diaper has a thicker pad in it to catch the out-go. You unsnap the diaper, and (depending on situation) pop the whole thing into the wash or you shake the more solid contents into the loo and then wash everything else. They do theirs on the hot cycle with a good laundry soap and everything comes out just fine.

LittleRed1

MaryAnne said...

We're planning on using cloth diapers with our second child if we're lucky enough to have one, for exactly the reasons you mentioned - I did the math and it'd be cheaper even if we splurged on the local diaper delivery service. The reason I couldn't do this with my first where I can with my second is that I'd be in a financial position to work part time and have family available to help with childcare. With my son, I worked full time. Most daycares require you to provide your own diapers for your kid. Very few want to deal with cloth (didn't want to mess with the sanitation risks involved), and the ones that did were nowhere near affordable for me and were also far too much on the cruncy-granola side for my taste (in my area "Waldorf-inspired" is code for "we don't do discipline, that would break their prescious spirits"). I'm not saying you don't have a very valid point, just that it's not always as simple as it seems at first glance.

gonegalt said...

How about ..........STOP HAVING KIDS or we'll give you diapers when you got get sterilized!

perlhaqr said...

My mom raised four kids using washable cloth diapers, and for a lot of the time didn't have her own washing machine.

I already know the answer, but, was your mother a single mom? Was she working to bring in the paycheck?

A working single mom may not have the energy to wash cloth diapers.

Though, now I wonder if there's enough economic room for a diaper service.

Will said...

One of the problems with "disposable" diapers is that people don't care where they toss them after use. It's amazing what is considered acceptable behaviour nowadays.

trailbee said...

The best we could do was use a diaper service for the first three months. Then I took over. The service was really nice, and easy to get used to, but cost too much over the long haul.
We used disposables when we were on the road during vacations. That's it. I'm too cheap to buy something, soil and throw it away. Yes, they are convenient, but I kept thinking about my husband's paycheck and just couldn't do it to him. I washed. :)

Judy said...

Sorry, I was a single mother, the rationals you are using don't work for me. It's not that hard to do one more load of laundry. It is also not that hard to cook a meal. What is hard is feeding yourself and your child on 15 bucks a week. (late 70's,early 80's)

Rolf said...

Another thing: breast milk fed babies have few and small stools, because the milk is darn-near 100% digested. Formula-fed babies have much more solid matter, and dealing with that is a bit more difficult - not hugely, but it is something to be considered.

Unknown said...

Ja boet, we call that a "first world problem".