Why Diapers Matter When It Comes to Personal Responsibility and Poverty

A California bill that would subsidize diapers could help low-income families remain in the workforce. So why are conservative politicians rejecting it?

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 A conservative blogger actually pulled out the “welfare queens” line when writing about it, and a sampling of some of the comments on a Fox News story about the bill included the following:

ReaganCoalitionMember: First get a good education. Then get a good job. Then get married. Then have children. Then don’t expect me to pay for your kids’ diapers! Otherwise you are a leech! Pay for your own diapers. Plan ahead.

bigpup10: If you can’t afford children, don’t have then. Pregnancy is 100% preventable!!!

Dafreder: The other solution is make them clean dirty diappers like my mother use to do if they can’t afford it. Do some work to earn some of these luxuries that working people can afford. I don’t want to hear that you can’t work.

What makes these reactions so frustrating is that they fly in the face of any commonsense approach to “personal responsibility.” As the bill’s text makes clear, plenty of child care facilities will not permit a child to be left there without disposable diapers. According to a report cited by the Los Angeles Times, “A mother working full time earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the study said, would spend more than 6 percent of her gross annual income of $15,080 on diapers.” 

I do believe it is possible for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps—but only if they are not left barefoot while all the people around them have boots.

So we want poor parents to work, yet that requires child care, but child care is often prohibitively expensive, and the children can be left with child care providers only if they have disposable diapers, which are prohibitively expensive, too. It’s like the birth-control-mandate debate all over again. Politicians don’t want people on welfare, but they make it as tough as possible for them to access contraception that will ensure they do not have more children than they can afford. But if they do have children, we won’t help them with diapers.

I believe that America is a great country. And I do believe it is possible for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps—but only if they are not left barefoot while all the people around them have boots. Depriving poor children of diapers reflects a lack of responsibility on the part of government, not a lack of personal responsibility on the part of parents trying to do the right thing.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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