The mistake of assuming the poor have what the rich do

(WASHINGTON POST)  March 18, 2016 — We make a mistake when we assume the poor can afford things they can’t.

Many readers responded to a piece we ran earlier this week on the high cost of diapers for the poor by suggesting a cheaper alternative: cloth diapers a family can buy once and then reuse.

This solution, though, has its limits for a number of reasons. Cloth diapers require a high up-front cost, which means those savings can be out of reach of cash-strapped families for the same reason that bulk purchases often are. “You do need to have several hundred dollars at once to get started, but then you are set,” as one commentator dismissive of the “diaper gap” put it.

Cloth diapers, which are more time-intensive, also assume that poor parents can pay for what they can’t afford with money by spending their time instead. (This is a tradeoff society often demands, for example, when the poor take long bus commutes because they can’t afford cars, or sit through long ER waits when they don’t have health insurance).

And many poor households simply don’t have the one thing you’d need to use cloth diapers in the first place — a washing machine. To illustrate this, we pulled data from the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey. One in four households in the U.S. living on less than $40,000 a year lacks a washing machine at home. The richest families in America are about 30 percentage points more likely than the poorest to have their own washing machine:

Source: The mistake of assuming the poor have what the rich do – The Washington Post