If I told you there’s a single item that could change a child’s future, you probably wouldn’t think of a diaper. But it’s true.
Diapers are essential—and when parents lack access to them, the whole family suffers. Yet they are exorbitantly expensive, costing between $80 and $100 per month, per baby. For low-income families, who spend around 14% of their income on diapers, they are the fourth-highest expenditure after other essentials like food, rent, and utilities. And they’re not covered by government programs like SNAP or WIC. (Apples? Yes. Diet coke? Yes. Diapers? No.) As of this year, nearly half of families who need diapers cannot afford them.
Some parents are forced to use newspapers and towels instead of diapers. They are leaving diapers on their babies, switching them from one baby to another, or even taking them off, hanging them to dry and reusing them.
A primary caregiver won’t show up to a wellness visit, a parenting class, or a job interview until their babies’ most basic needs are met. More simply put, when your infant is screaming in a dirty diaper, you can’t do anything. And diapers are required at daycare and preschool. Think about what this means. If a parent—in many cases, a mother—can’t provide the 8-12 diapers required for a day of child care, she can’t leave her baby there. She can’t get to work. She can’t earn an income or take care of her own needs. The cost of diapers is single-handedly stopping some women from returning to the workforce.
Perhaps the worst and most shocking part of the economics of diapers is that they are also taxed like a luxury item. I can promise you, if you ask any parent in this country if there is anything luxurious about diapers, no matter their political party or walk of life, they will unanimously agree there is not.
Twenty-six states currently charge sales tax on diapers, and this tax can range from 4% to 7%, which can mean the difference of keeping the lights on or putting meals on the table for a family already living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, many cities and counties can further tax diapers too. This means some families with young children are getting taxed by their city, their county, and their state. All for diapers.
At Baby2Baby, my co-CEO Kelly Sawyer Patricof and I, along with our team, have spent more than a decade trying to fill this void. We have distributed more than 170 million diapers to date. But the demand is skyrocketing. This year alone, we received requests for 1.3 billion diapers.
Diaper need is insatiable, but there is a way to help parents to afford them. America can stop taxing them.
The good news is there is growing support to end diaper taxes. A few years ago, we lobbied successfully in California to remove sales tax from diapers, leading the state to join eight others in doing so. In January 2020, the state made diapers tax-free, initially for a two-year period, but then for good as of 2021. Ten other U.S. states, including Florida, Texas, and Ohio, have since followed suit.
Now, we need more states to do the same. Our hope is that all states remove sales tax from diapers and legislation is passed that protects this essential good from being considered a luxury item.
For parents, a diaper isn’t just a diaper—it’s a child’s health and a family’s opportunity. Let’s not just change billions of diapers. Let’s stop taxing them.
Norah Weinstein is the co-CEO of Baby2Baby, which was included in the 2023 TIME100 Most Influential Companies list.
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