The median income in the United States for a family of four is around $50,000 a year. But there are currently more than 46 million people living on less than $23,000 a year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and 20 million of those live on half of that. That means a lot of families have to sacrifice in ways others might not think about, like these items:
1. Clean laundry
The average American household does 400 loads of laundry a year, the EPA reports. And many of those loads are done at laundromats. An analysis from the Simple Dollar, a finance blog, estimates that a load of laundry (washed and dried) done at the laundromat costs around $3 each. If the average family is doing 400 loads a year—that's more than one load of laundry a day—the costs rack up to $1,200. But many can't afford that.
NPR reports, "Laundry is a daunting chore for many people, but for the working poor, the cost of doing laundry — not to mention the time involved in hauling it to a laundromat — can be prohibitive. It can also mean going without other basic essentials." That's why Laundry Love, a national nonprofit organization, supports local groups across the country who help low-income and homeless families pay for the simple task of cleaning their clothes.
2. Tampons and pads
The Guardian's Jessica Valenti writes, "For too many girls, the products that mark 'becoming a woman' are luxuries, not givens. And for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue."
An analysis from Jezebel and Drugstore.com reports that the cost of either tampons or pads for the average woman are around $60 a month.
And that extends to women in developing countries, who, in some cases, still lack basic information about best practices when it comes to feminine hygiene. Mark Mokhiber, a chief officer at the United Nations, has said that sanitation is “an enormous human rights challenge of the 21st century that has yet to be met.”
3. Back-to-school shopping
Families with kids pay a pretty penny to get ready for school each year. The Huffington Post reported that "while back-to-school spending last year averaged $688.62 for families with K-12 children, spending this year is expected to average $634.78, according to the National Retail Federation. In total, families are expected to spend a total of $26.7 billion for K-12 children, although that number reaches $72.5 billion when college-aged kids are added to calculations."
And that hits the poor extra hard. According to NBC, "An annual survey conducted by Huntington Bank finds that a backpack and school supplies for a middle-school student this year will run parents about $312, up more than $100 from last year — the large jump due mainly to a more expensive calculator."
4. Nutritious food
Healthy food is costly, and it's no secret that those facing poverty struggle to pay for — not to mention take the time to prepare — healthy food.
Reuters writes that "more than 50% of people ate food that was past its expiration date or bought food in damaged or dented packages. Those foods are more likely to be marked down, and they can be dangerous, especially if they’re not handled and stored properly."
And a big problem for Americans is buying unhealthy foods. "Processed junk foods are often cheaper than fresh food, and many low-income areas are considered “food deserts” because there is little access to affordable, healthy groceries. The alternative is to buy inexpensive, filling food that’s widely available — fast food, chips and soda, for example. This practice contributes to the high rates of obesity among lower-income populations in the country," writes Reuters' Shaun Best.
5. A good night's sleep
People facing homelessness and poverty face a lot of challenges, one of which is finding a place to sleep. Many times even after finding somewhere to rest their heads, those sleeping in shelters, on the streets or staying with friends don't get the quality of sleep they need for their health and for successful job performance.
"Sleeplessness contributes, popular science preaches, to obesity, diabetes, poor diet and unproductiveness. And yet, even those of us who should have no problem logging a solid eight hours often struggle to get enough," Hanna Brooks Olsen writes for the Atlantic. "But for those who don’t have access to a bed, a locked door, and an iPhone alarm, sleep deprivation is caused by more than just the frivolous decision to eat more ice cream at 11:30 p.m."
An article in the Deseret News National Edition explains how families with children in diapers need extra wiggle room for diapers, and not just for their budgets. While 30 percent of low-income families lack an adequate supply of diapers, babies' health as well as parents' health can also suffer.
"When a child wears a wet diaper or dirty diaper for too long, it is more likely to contract skin rashes and urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to the study. Difficult to detect in non-verbal children, untreated UTIs can cause serious kidney damage that can lead to scarring, poor growth and high blood pressure among afflicted children, according the American Academy of Pediatrics," writes Mercedes White.
Plus, parents who lack the resources to buy enough diapers for their children are often more likely to face depression.
Although some may have easy access to cars, gasoline and public transportation, getting around is something many low-income families across the world struggle to pay for.
A chart in the Guardian shows that people in the U.K.'s bottom quintile for income spend a significantly disproportionate amount of their income on gas for cars. While the poorest quintile spends $16.36 on gas and the richest fifth of the population spends $52.87, the percentage of income is astounding: that $52.87 that the wealthiest people spend on transportation is only 1 percent of their income. For the poorest quintile? It's about 4.5 percent.
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