In Alameda County, nearly one in three families don’t have enough money to make ends meet. Parents are forced to make impossible choices every day, whether it’s paying rent or keeping babies in diapers.
As a form of financial support, diapers can promote conditions directly related to kindergarten readiness, including family economic well-being, child health, and reduced caregiver stress. Public investment is needed to bring economic justice and stability to children and communities affected by poverty. Layers are a start.
Diapers are an essential product for health, education and the economy. Families must provide their children’s diapers to participate in most preschool and child care programs. When families cannot afford diapers, children cannot attend early learning programs and caregivers are often unable to work.
From there, it’s a domino effect for the children. First 5 studies of kindergarten readiness in Alameda County show that the impacts of structural inequalities—a family’s socioeconomic status, housing stability, and parent/guardian stress—are linked to readiness. of a child in kindergarten. Success in kindergarten is linked to grade three academic achievement, a predictor of high school graduation, which predicts lifelong educational and occupational success and well-being.
Despite the key role diapers play in a child’s health and well-being, access to education, and a family’s economic stability, public safety net programs such as SNAP (CalFresh in California) and WIC do not provide dedicated funding for diapers.
In Alameda County, a family with two adults, a preschooler, and an infant needs approximately $138,000 per year to cover basic expenses. Family of four covered by Medi-Cal, California’s public health insurance plan, earns $38,295 or less. At $2,000 a year for two children, the cost of diapers represents a significant portion of family income.
Although the need for diapers has been overlooked, it is also understudied. The first 5 Alameda counties invested in an evaluation of Help A Mother Out’s diaper program in the Bay Area. The final report shows that families are healthier and happier after receiving diapers:
• 97% say their family feels less stressed.
• 96% say their child is healthier.
• 93% have more money in the budget for food.
• 91% say it’s easier to pay their bills.
Between 2018 and 2021, the cost of basic expenses increased by 19% and inflation continues to rise. Housing and childcare now account for more than half (53%) of a family’s monthly budget. As families struggle to survive, we have seen the indisputable benefit of providing economic support, and then the damage that results when it is removed.
The expiry of the federal child tax credit has pushed 3.4 million children back into poverty and forced families into even direr circumstances. These pressures disproportionately harm children from low-income families and children of color.
For public systems, investing in basic needs brings a multiple return on investment. Community organizations funded through First 5’s Neighborhoods Ready for School initiative have leveraged the bulk purchase and distribution of diapers to serve as critical hubs for supplies and connections to resources. By ensuring families can make ends meet, we improve outcomes for children, families and the community.
In First 5 Alameda County, we urge the California Legislature and Governor to continue investing now, and in future budgets, in economic support for children and families. We applaud the Legislature’s proposal of $30 million in the state budget for fiscal year 22-23 for the distribution of diapers and wipes. We also call on Congress to restore and make permanent the Child Tax Credit.
Data and research prove that differences in kindergarten readiness are attributable to structural inequalities rooted in racist and classist politics. We need to pave a fairer path so that no parent has to make an impossible choice and all children can thrive.
Kristin Spanos is the General Manager of First 5 Alameda County.