Diapers

The rising cost of diapers has added to the financial burden, especially for low-income families.

ATTLEBORO — The current inflation rate is 5.4 percent, which is the highest in 13 years, according tradingeconomics.com,

So that means everyone gets a 5.4 percent pay cut, at least.

But there’s worse news.

Gasoline is up 42 percent, heating fuel is up 43 percent, electricity is up 5 percent, natural gas is up 21 percent and clothes are up 3 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are costs we all endure.

And then there’s the cost of diapers.

That’s a cost that afflicts young low-income families in addition to all the other cost increases, according to both national and local sources.

And, according to a Bloomberg News article published on July 9, the cost has gone up 14 percent.

“The average unit price of diapers was up 14% year over year in January and has remained elevated ever since, according to data from (retail sales tracker) Nielsen,” the article said.

“Packages that cost about $25 last year now can cost $40 — and there are fewer inside. Indeed, baby-care items from rash salves to wipes have seen double-digit increases, and companies have said prices will rise again.”

Added to all the other cost increases, this can hurt a young low-income family.

And it’s not that rare.

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one in three families struggled to provide enough diapers for their babies or toddlers across America — and that was before coronavirus hit.

After that, it got worse.

“Research conducted by National Diaper Bank Network in 2020, found that member diaper banks (more than 225 throughout the U.S.) distributed on average 86% more diapers in 2020 vs. 2019 due to the increased levels of diaper need resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Troy Moore, Chief of External Affairs for NDBN, said in an email to The Sun Chronicle.

“Some programs reported increases of 200, 400 and up to 800 percent vs. 2019. Anecdotally, in 2021 many diaper banks are continuing to see increased levels of need for diapers and are continuing to expand their capacity to serve their local communities.”

Moore said NDBN’s goal is to end diaper need.

It’s a need which not everyone sees because it only affects those with babies crawling or toddling across their living room floors.

And with babies needing 8 to 12 diapers per day — or 280 to 360 diapers per month — and toddlers needing 4 to 6 diapers per day — or 120 to 180 diapers per month — it can have a huge impact on a small budget, especially with all the other costs of living factored in, Moore said.

“The National Diaper Bank believes that any increase in the retail cost of material basic necessities, that children and families require to thrive, has an inequitable impact on families living in poverty,” he told The Sun Chronicle.

Cost breakdown

A visit to a nearby Wal-Mart confirmed that cases of diapers do indeed cost as much as $40.

Pampers “Baby Dry” diapers from size 1 to size 5 all cost $39.94 per case in a Wal-Mart visited by a reporter.

The smallest size, which is figured by weight of the baby, comes in a case of 216 diapers.

That means it will cost $639 a year for the minimal amount used, which would be 3,360 diapers.

However, the baby is going to grow during that year which means that the diaper size will grow as well.

Each size increase has fewer diapers per case which could mean that fewer cases need to be bought as the baby ages toward toddler-hood when the need at a minimum is 120 diapers per month.

In short, the exact cost is hard to estimate.

But suffice it to say the cost has gone up and for a family of two, a mom and baby living at the U.S. poverty level, it would chew up from $639 a year (16 cases of 216 diapers at $39.94 per case or 280 diapers a month) to $798 (20 cases of 216 diapers at $39.94 per case or 360 diapers per month).

At the maximum, assuming only one baby, that’s 4.6 percent of the federal poverty level income of $17,420.

For a family of three, assuming only one baby, it’s 3.63 percent of the poverty level income of $21,960, and for a family of four, again assuming one baby, it’s 3 percent of the income of $26,500.

If there are two babies, the percentages are doubled.

In Massachusetts, according to NDBN, there are 212,910 children under the age of three and 17 percent or 36,195 live in families earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level which means diapers chew up even more of their income.

Local impact

So what’s it like locally?

There’s always a shortage of diapers at charitable organizations which distribute them.

One of those located in Attleboro is Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center.

Executive Director Darlene Howard said her organization serves approximately 70 area babies who are 24 months old or younger each month with free diapers, wipes, formula, baby food and blankets.

“We also provide referrals to over 60 community agencies for those in need,” she said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “The only requirements to take part in our monthly diaper distribution is a parent or guardian picture ID, WIC card, proof of the child’s birth and that the child be 24 months or less.”

While the need is always great, requests have not increased at her agency, she said.

Howard speculated that money provided by the federal government to everyone during the pandemic may have eased the cost burden for low-income young parents.

Abundant Hope does not have the resources to provide a full month’s worth of diapers to any one person.

And the number of diapers supplied depends solely on the number of diapers donated, Howard said.

“We help in any way we can dependent upon our donations,” she said. “We strategically plan to ensure our resources are stocked on diaper distribution days. We depend on the community to donate material resources and financial assistance to allow us to continue to meet the demand each month.”

Local resources include donations from food pantries and churches.

“We work with many local churches to procure diapers and wipes from in-person diaper drives at the churches,” Howard said. “When we need, the parishioners always provide. We also accept food and formula donations from five area food pantries.”

But on a larger scale, the pandemic made the diaper shortage worse, Brigid Boyd, Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, said.

“The pandemic has exacerbated the diaper crisis for families with lower incomes, and we have heard this across the board from our community partners,” she said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “We also heard that with more people working and learning from home, fewer ‘community drives’ were happening for food and other basics, leaving many organizations without the usual supplies to distribute.”

As a result, United Way hosted a region-wide “Community Baby Shower” for 1,000 new and expectant families in Boston, Lynn, Lawrence and Attleboro last May.

“In Attleboro, we shared more than 100 boxes of diapers, each box had a one-month supply of 150 diapers, along with wipes and a $75 gift card to help families meet this essential need,” she said.

Attleboro Area Interfaith Collaborative was one of the partners for this event.

Meanwhile, the local food pantries are minimally involved in the distribution of diapers to those who need them.

Carissa Phillips, Executive Director of Hebron Food Pantry said while they do distribute personal health care products, if donated, their main focus is on food.

And to date, there has not been a surge in requests for diapers, which if Hebron has, are distributed.

“They will ask periodically, but I have not seen an increase in people asking for diapers,” Phillips said.

And at Murray Church Food Pantry, volunteer Sheila Jacobs said the demand for diapers, which her pantry gets from Greater Boston Food Bank, always exceeds the supply.

She said the pantry supplements, as it is able, the diaper supply of those who need them.

“Very often the demand is greater than the supply,” Jacobs said.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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