Why low-income families are struggling to afford diapers

The high cost of diapers is an often invisible part of poverty in America. Although more than 5 million babies and toddlers in the U.S. live in low-income families, most government programs don't provide diapers or funding to purchase them. Ali Rogin reports on how some families are coping and how some organizations are stepping in to help.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It's an often-invisible part of poverty in America, the high cost of diapers. Even though more than 5 million babies and toddlers across the country live in low-income families, most government programs don't provide diapers or funding to buy them. Correspondent Ali Rogin looks at how some families are coping and how some organizations are stepping in to help.

  • Ali Rogin:

    It's drop off time at Jubilee Jumpstart, a childcare center for lower income families in downtown Washington D.C.

  • No Name Given:

    Good morning.

  • Kia Ross:

    Hey.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Kia Ross, who works at a different D.C. school has a busy day ahead. So does her one-year-old son, Azai.

    Doing his daily reading, getting his steps in and climbing the corporate ladder. But no matter what Azai I get into, or on top of, he'll be clean and healthy. Thanks to a precious increasingly expensive item provided here for free, diapers.

    How much peace of mind does it give you when you know that Azai has the diverse he needs when he comes here?

  • Kia Ross, Jubilee Jumpstart Parent:

    It brings a lot to boxes of diapers go for like $100 so it does help me and because it keeps my financials stability stable.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Jubilee Jumpstart provides 50 diapers for each child per month and more by request. Single mom, Kia keeps most of his Azai's diapers in his classroom.

  • Kia Ross:

    I know that I can eggs or suggest to Jubilee like hey, this month might be a little bit short. Do you think you can lend me some diapers in the, you know, they will, oh, we have much.

  • No Name Given:

    Waving goodbye.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Unchanged diapers can lead to health problems for babies like diaper rash and urinary tract infections and beyond the child's health, studies have linked diaper need with maternal depression. Dee Dee Parker Wright is the Executive Director of Jubilee Jumpstart.

  • Dee Dee Parker Wright, Executive Director, Jubilee Jumpstart:

    We consider early childhood, early parenthood, it happens at the same time. So, when we are able to alleviate that stress for a parent, we enhance what's happening for a baby with their parent.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Jubilee Jumpstart is one of 75 organizations gets their diapers from the greater D.C. Diaper Bank they're on track to deliver 10 million diapers by the end of the year, five times as many as before the pandemic. The head of the Diaper Bank, Rebecca Kolowe says they still use their pandemic emergency model, giving larger quantities of diapers to regional distribution hubs.

  • Rebecca Kolowe, Interim Executive Director, Greater D.C. Diaper Bank:

    The need continues to persist. The pandemic just made it easier to ask for help and became less taboo because everybody needed help.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The bank was founded in 2010 by a new mother who was struggling despite having everything her baby needed. She asked different charities what parents requested the most. The answer then, as it is now, diapers.

    It now serves more than 30,000 families a year in D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland. It buys some diapers wholesale and accepts donations. The need remains high, partly because most government assistance programs don't cover diapers. And with inflation, those costs are even higher.

    In the U.S. disposable diaper prices are up 10% since last year, and they're currently subject to sales tax in 29 states.

    The average infant goes through 8 to 12 diapers a day. That's over 200 a month, several 1000 per year.

  • Kathryn Edwards:

    You can't put food stamps towards diapers. You can't put Medicaid towards diapers.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Kathryn Edwards is an economist at the RAND Corporation, a Global Policy Institute.

  • Kathryn Edwards, RAND Corporation:

    Sadly enough, the U.S. has no peer and how little it invests in children and young families.

  • Ali Rogin:

    In a 2020 study, UNICEF ranked 38 developed countries by child well-being. The United States was 36, some of the contributing factors include poor parental leave policies, a lack of public investment in childcare and early learning and scarcity of affordable housing compared to other advanced countries.

  • Kathryn Edwards:

    There's no substituting away from diapers, right? There's no — you know, trimming fat from the budget of like, OK, well, maybe we won't get diapers this week.

  • Ali Rogin:

    So, some parents like Brittany Nolasco from Colorado are getting creative. Just before the pandemic, Nolasco was on maternity leave with her baby daughter, only receiving half her salary. During COVID her husband lost his job.

  • Brittany Nolasco:

    We were on a one income household and weren't really under sure how to pay for her diaper.

  • Ali Rogin:

    She started couponing and using rebate apps, and she started sharing her tips on the social media app TikTok.

  • Brittany Nolasco:

    These are the costs of diapers I have seen grow. It went from just kind of a couple of 1000 views to a couple 100,000 views and I had local moms reaching out to me who have known me but didn't know I was a coupon or saying this is amazing. Thank you so much to moms who really were not able to even really pay their bills or buy generic diapers for their little ones.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The diaper industry has two big players, Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble. They control more than two-thirds of the U.S. market. As inflation increases, Nolasco says she's seen brands raise prices, and cut coupon values and rebates. Neither Kimberly-Clark nor Procter & Gamble responded to repeated requests for comment.

  • Brittany Nolasco:

    I think it's hard and I think it's sad that we live in such a world where just having to decide whether you can buy diapers or pay your bill is a choice.

  • Kia Ross:

    Kathryn Edwards says the world wasn't always like this for parents.

  • Kathryn Edwards:

    It is a modern phenomenon of the past really 20 years, that the squeeze on young families has been so hard that the need for, you know, basically charity diapers has not only, you know, been called into existence, but it's actually a thriving network of charities to get millions of diapers to families every year.

  • Ali Rogin:

    A network that Rebecca Kolowe wishes didn't exist at all.

  • Rebecca Kolowe:

    I would love for us to be able to work ourselves out of a job. Simply providing diapers isn't going to work us out of a job.

  • Ali Rogin:

    For now, every little bit is helping parents like Kia Ross.

  • Kia Ross:

    It takes a lot as a female to bring a child into this world and making sure that he is, you know, have diapers at home, wipes, just you know soap supplies, just the basic needs, everything to see a child.

  • Ali Rogin:

    With a few basic needs like diapers taken care of, Kia can spend more time focusing on the priceless things, like time with Azai. For "PBS News Weekend," I'm Ali Rogin in Washington.

Listen to this Segment