While rich Republicans in the House of Representatives push policies that would make life more difficult for the poor, they don’t understand or care how difficult life is already for millions of Americans.
Here is one indicator: Diapers have moved from necessity to luxury in many low-income households. That’s what a new Yale University study published in Pediatrics magazine has revealed.
Researchers found that almost 30 percent of low-income women with young children cannot afford to buy enough of them. Latinas and grandmothers raising grandchildren find themselves most often in this dilemma, according to the study, which surveyed 877 low-income women in and around New Haven, Conn.
This hits home for me. I live 20 minutes from New Haven, Conn. I am Latina. And I am a mother of two boys younger than 4; one of them is still in diapers. I also grew up in similarly economically depressed areas in the South Bronx in the 1980s. In my childhood neighborhood, diapers were often in short supply, as were many items (like fresh produce) and services (like public transportation) most people take for granted.
Today, my family and I spend an adequate amount on monthly hygienic supplies — diapers, baby wipes, lotions — because the alternative — rashes, urinary tract infections, chafing, dry skin — is unthinkable. We are among the fortunate who can provide such items. Some women in the Yale study reported spending 6 percent of their total income on diapers, which can run up to $100 a month, especially in barrios, where most women don’t have cars and rely on local bodegas and convenience stores.
"Three in 10 poor mothers report they cannot afford an adequate supply of diapers," the researchers concluded. This not only hurts the babies but the mothers, too.
"Low-income mothers who cannot afford diapers are also more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety," the report states. This mental pain then can cause even more hardship for babies.
"A parent’s mental health affects a child’s development," says Megan Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and principal author of the study. "High levels of stress and depression in a parent can be associated with low achievement in school and mental health problems that can follow a child for a lifetime," she concluded.
The inability to afford something so basic as diapers is a window into the harsh reality of being poor in America today. But diapers are just part of the problem. The Department of Agriculture says that 17.6 million households experience hunger regularly. And, of the 23 million households that receive food stamps, three-quarters include children, the disabled or the elderly.
Yet House Republicans think this is the right time to kick 4 million to 6 million food stamp recipients out of the program. There is something terribly wrong when we, as a society, can’t ensure that every young child is getting enough to eat and is not having to sit around in a soiled diaper.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.progressive.org.