Shaming the poor some more

October 16, 2014 Events

Pulitzer Prize winner Connie Schultz, still one of the best columnists I know:

A researcher for the Yale School of Medicine asked women in New Haven, Connecticut, one question: “If you have children in diapers, do you ever feel that you do not have enough diapers to change them as often as you would like?”

About 30 percent of the women said yes.

Keep in mind that these mothers are not allowed to use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, aka WIC, or food stamps to pay for diapers or baby wipes. This restriction must surely comfort those Republican state legislators around the country who’ve been busy trying to stop these same women from buying such things as steak, seafood, sharp cheddar and anything organic for their families.

That’s another trend these days: making it easier to pick out poor people in the grocery line. It’s a full-time hobby keeping the lives of those people from resembling ours.

In a story for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan described some of the ways those mothers in New Haven stretched the use of their babies’ diapers:

“Mothers would take the diapers off, dump out the poop, and put the diapers back on. They would air-dry the diapers. They’d let their kids sit in wet diapers for longer than they should — a practice that can lead to UTIs and other infections. Other moms have reported potty training infants who are less than a year old — at least six months earlier than is recommended — in order to save money.”

Under the best of circumstances, motherhood has a way of introducing you to fears and insecurities you didn’t know you had until you laid eyes on your new baby. Surely, those of us who never had to worry about the annual diaper bill — Pediatrics journal currently estimates the cost to be $936 a year for disposables — would be outraged by what those mothers in poverty are going through. I’m certain this is most mothers’ — most parents’ — reaction.

But then there’s that other group of people, and they always seem to have so much time on their hands.

These readers’ response was fast in the comments section — and furious in its scolding. Use cloth diapers, many said. After all, it was good enough for them in the 1970s … their mothers in the 1950s … their grandmothers in God only knows when.

Forget that most day care centers require disposable diapers. Forget, too, that you need a washer and dryer to clean them. And forget that if you don’t, you need a car, or else you have to take public transportation to the laundromat, where you’ll spend more money.

Too many readers had another solution: If you can’t afford a baby, don’t have one.

There you go. Let’s add babies to the list of things poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have.

I was so discouraged by the reader comments on The Atlantic’s website that I posted a link to the story on my public Facebook page. Many readers brainstormed about how to help these mothers. A few shared links to diaper banks in their communities.

To my disappointment, a sub-thread took off lecturing women in poverty to use cloth diapers — and to stop sullying our gene pool with babies they can’t afford.

What is it about the internet that turns people into such assholes?

6 thoughts on “Shaming the poor some more

  1. Why is it so horrible to suggest that people who can’t afford to have babies, shouldn’t? This world has way too many people already. But most of them think they have a god given right to add even more people to families that often can’t sustain themselves in a world that is itself on an unsustainable path of resource consumption and environmental degradation.
    I didn’t have kids. For me, even bigger than the factor of not really wanting them enough was the fact that I couldn’t afford them, and the fucking future looks so bleak I don’t know how I’d live with myself knowing I brought more people into it to face the war, oppression and and poverty that is coming (not to mention the amount of it that has already arrived over the last 20 or 30 years).
    I actually did want kids someday, back when I was way too young and it was a struggle just to support myself. By the time I was financially secure enough I was too old, but relieved that I never had them.
    The problem with people who have kids, rich and poor alike, are the ones who do so are either so foolish and/or egotistical that they are exactly the last sorts of people who should have them. That goes for the rich folks too.
    If I had had more money and had had kids, I’d now be looking at going into debt (i.e. having no retirement, vs the meager on I can look forward to now) to put them in college for them to graduate into a shitty job market and the world on the brink of financial collapse again. Not to mention having a stupid hipster sleeping in my basement, maybe with an unemployed significant other, and watching TV all day.
    At some point if we want to live in anything like a civilization, we are going to have to learn to run an economy that is not a ponzi scheme predicated on doubling the population thru immigration and/or babies every 20 years. But the plan now seems to be to run the world into the ground and then if anyone survives go back to letting nature (i.e. famine, disease and war) manage human populations.

  2. We don’t provide sex education or easy access to contraception or abortion. Young people will do what young people do – make mistakes. As soon as that unwanted child is born we start lecturing the mother (never the dad). We’ve got all the money in the world for football stadiums but nothing for disadvantaged kids. I bet all those “cloth diaper” commentators were men who never did a load of wash in their lives.

  3. Thanks for addressing an all too common response to news stories about something as simple as raising awareness of diaper need. Far too many American families struggle to meet their basic needs. Providing free diapers to babies living in poor and low-income families should not be controversial…unfortunately for some, it is.

    Individuals who want to learn more about the subject and how to help diaper banks keep babies clean, dry and healthy can find more information at

    Thanks again.

  4. Given their druthers, most poor women would rather have actual birth control and abortion as a backup. But since we’ve made it almost impossible for poor women to afford, and have created a culture of shame around sex and abortion, this is what we get.

  5. What is the actual standard for “being able to afford children,” though? Most poor people were raised (just fine, thank you) by other poor people and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to have children, too. One might just as easily argue that rich people have too many distractions and too little commitment and therefore, shouldn’t have children. (Have you seen television, like, ever?)

    I used to work with poor women and children and I can tell you that too-early potty training is definitely a thing. And if there is anything that frustrates caregivers and sets children up for abuse, it is problems in potty training. Which are frankly unavoidable when a kid is too young to control bodily functions.

    I did not know about diaper banks, so thank you for the information!

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