Diapers vs Food: Impossible Choices

As diaper industry booms, 1 in 3 American families struggle to afford them

Apr 03, 2018 6:21pm EDT by Wagatwe Wanjuki

The Tampa Bay Times just released a new report proving an in-depth look at the cost of diapers and its impact on families, citing a study that found a third of American families struggle to afford them.

In the United States, the average diaper sells for about 25 cents.

The quarters add up quickly. Newborns need as many as 12 changes a day. That’s $21 per week, or $84 per month. Bigger kids need fewer, but their diapers are more expensive.

For a single mom or dad working full time at minimum wage, the cost can consume 6 percent of total annual pay. For the lowest-income parents, it’s as much as 14 percent.

New research shows a third of families in the United States struggle with the expense.

Cloth diapers aren’t always an option. They are difficult to clean without a washing machine at home or paying for a service. Some coin laundries don’t allow them in their machines.

Diapers can cost about $1,000 every year, which is a lot for many parents. There are ways to minimize the cost; buying in bulk definitely saves dollars. However, the people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck don’t exactly have that luxury. And they’re forced to buy diapers one pack at a time at the local store.

Why are diapers so expensive? The Times reached out to diaper companies, but they all either ignored requests or declined to comment.

The top manufacturers don’t publicly report profit margins on their diapers, and many insiders won’t discuss the bottom line. Consultant Carlos Richer, who ran a large diaper factory in Mexico, joked he would become “the enemy of the diaper industry” if he did.

Carl Cucuzza, a consultant based in Georgia, said Huggies and Pampers typically make about 2 cents per diaper. The profit on a generic diaper, he said, is about half that.

It’s “good money,” he added. Billions of diapers are sold annually.

Business will likely get better.

Meanwhile, assistance options for vulnerable parents—like the young mother featured in the article named Lalandria Goolsby—are limited. Thanks to the way our social assistance programs work, only cash assistance is eligible to spend on diapers. SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and WIC cannot be used for them. In Florida, a family of three that makes more than $303 is ineligible.

Struggling to afford diapers has an impact on both parents and babies. Cheaper brands tend to more easily cause rashes, which also appear when parents try to stretch out diapers and keep them on the child for too long. Diapers are a constant need and when parents can’t sufficiently provide them, they struggle mentally and emotionally under extremely trying conditions. This effect will inevitably have an impact on the baby, too.

Some states have taken measures to address the so-called “silent crisis” of diaper access, but the federal government has pretty much dropped the ball.

In March 2016, it caught the attention of the White House.

In a blog post, an advisor to then-President Barack Obama pointed out that families can be forced to choose between buying diapers and paying for food, rent or utilities.

“That’s a choice that no family should have to make,” she wrote.

Obama urged Congress to devote $10 million to the problem. Congress did nothing.

Considering that we have an extremely anti-woman, anti-compassion administration right now, it’s unlikely to see a change any time soon, which is a pity. Meanwhile, we will continue to have families around the richest country in the world struggle to afford a basic need for their babies: diapers.