Many Families Struggling to Afford Basic Non-food Items

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Many Families Struggling to Afford Basic Non-food Items


Many families with children are struggling to afford basic, non-food household goods, including personal care, household care and baby care items, so finds a new study, “In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials,” released by domestic hunger-relief organization Feeding America.

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.

These results come just as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 49 million people in the United States, including nearly 16 million children, live at risk of hunger.

The survey conducted for the study found that one in three (34 percent) low-income families found it difficult to afford basic household necessities in the past year. Of these families, 82 percent live in households with low or very low food security, meaning that they cannot afford enough food for their household members. Additionally, nearly three in four (73 percent) low-income families have cut back on food in the past year in order to afford household goods. Of these, one in four (24 percent) report doing so each month.

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, including 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.

Other notable findings:

  • One in five (21 percent) low-income families skip, delay or cut back on medical expenses to afford household necessities, despite many households also reporting significant chronic health conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
  • Three in four families (74 percent) who are unable to afford household necessities skip washing dishes or doing laundry.
  • Sixty-three percent of families prioritize washing only the children’s clothes in an effort to promote good hygiene among their children.
  • One-third of families unable to afford household goods report bathing without soap (33 percent) or reusing diapers (32 percent) 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.

The inability to afford these basic essentials also places an emotional strain on parents and other adults in the household. Many express concerns about their household health and hygiene; nearly 50 percent of low-income families often worry about whether they can meet the needs of their children. Others feel they cannot promote healthy habits with their children because they lack basic household essentials at home.

“During Hunger Action Month in September, we are reminded that 1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger, but we often don’t think about the additional hardship and emotional toll placed on these families who are unable to afford personal hygiene and basic household items,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America.

“The lack of everyday essentials, such as toilet paper, toothpaste, soap or disposable diapers, may compromise the health and well-being of our at-risk neighbors, especially those who face food insecurity," Aiken continued. "The difficulty within American households to afford these necessities underscores the need for institutions to work together in an effort to help low-income families address their basic needs.”

Feeding America is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States.