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Low-Income Americans Cut Back on Basics…Like Detergent

November 4, 2013

A new study released by Feeding America, In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials, reveals that many families with children struggle to afford basic, non-food household goods, including products related to personal care, household care and baby care. As a result, these families often make trade-offs with other living expenses and employ coping strategies in an effort to secure essential household items.

The nationally representative survey conducted for this study found that one in three (34%) low-income families found it difficult to afford basic household necessities in the past year. Of these families, 82% live in households with low or very low food security, meaning that they cannot afford enough food for their household members.

Additionally, 73% low-income families have cut back on food in the past year in order to afford household goods. Of these families, 24% report doing so each month, according to the data.

In order to make ends meet, families utilize a variety of coping strategies when they are unable to afford personal care and household care items. These include using less, substituting, borrowing and doing without. Some of these strategies, like altering eating habits to afford non-food items or delaying hygiene habits, raise concerns about potential risks to the health and well-being of many families with children.

In addition, the study found that 74% of families who are unable to afford household necessities skip washing dishes or doing laundry, while 63% of these families prioritize washing only the children’s clothes in an effort to promote good hygiene among their children.

Further, one-third of families unable to afford household goods report bathing without soap (33%) or reusing diapers (32%) in order to get by without these basic necessities. Some families also substitute specific household goods for others, such as using shampoo as dish soap or baking soda as deodorant, according to the data.

The study was made possible with funding from Procter & Gamble, a long-standing donor and Feeding America Mission partner.
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