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End Diaper Need and Period Poverty: Families Need Cash Assistance to Meet Basic Needs

by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Diaper Network

September 21, 2021

Everyone should have the resources to ensure they can maintain their health and that of their children without sacrificing their financial stability. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many families struggled to afford their material basic needs, including diapers and menstrual products.

A study conducted by Yale University researchers found that nearly 3 in 10 of the nearly 900 parents with low incomes surveyed in New Haven, Connecticut, could not afford diapers; a small study of about 200 women with low incomes in St. Louis, Missouri, found that nearly two-thirds reported they had struggled to afford period products in the previous year. The struggle to afford material basic necessities is a growing public health crisis in the United States; industry-funded national studies on diaper need and period poverty echo the findings of the smaller academic studies.

Diaper need: The struggle to afford a sufficient supply of diapers required to keep a child clean, dry, and healthy.
Period poverty: The struggle to afford the period products required to remain healthy.

Diaper Need and Period Poverty Force Difficult Choices

Diaper need. When families struggle to afford diapers, it forces them to choose between their children’s health and other needs:

  • Families may keep diapers on for too long or empty solids and reuse disposable diapers, resulting in rashes, urinary tract infections, or worse.

  • Diapers, which cost nearly $100 per month per child, can be a serious burden for parents with low earnings and those who are out of work or unable to work.

  • Many child care providers require parents to provide diapers each day. At one diaper bank, 56 percent of parents who needed child care to go to work reported missing work because they lacked diapers.

Diaper need has other implications: one study of 296 low-income women found a correlation between diaper need and maternal depression. The study by Yale University researchers concluded that an adequate supply of diapers could reduce parenting stress.

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