As inflation drives up the costs of routine care products and diapers, more states are reducing sales tax on these items to ease the strain on consumers’ budgets.
Colorado on Wednesday enacted legislation exempting such goods from state sales tax starting next year, when a similar measure in Iowa also applies. Louisiana consumers won’t have to wait that long; the state eliminated its sales tax on diapers and menstrual products effective July 1. Periodic care items are already exempt from state sales taxes in Florida, Maryland and New York, which have each extended exclusions to diapers in recent weeks. Florida did the same last month, but only for a year.
In the United States, researchers estimate that nearly 17 million menstruating people live in poverty and that hundreds of thousands do not have access to necessary hygiene products and facilities. Still, 23 U.S. states tax routine care items as non-essential goods and 29 treat diapers much the same, rather than necessities like food or toilet paper, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. Consumer advocates have long denounced the arrangement as a “pink tax” on up to half the population – the half that disproportionately cares for children.
“There is a huge gap between what the United States [consumers] do and what they have to spend to support themselves and their families,” said Joanne Goldblum, CEO of the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit organization partially funded by Kotex that helps distribute diapers to struggling caregivers.
Like many household items, prices for diapers and vintage goods have soared as pandemic pressures upend supply chains and slow manufacturing. The average cost of diapers rose 13% in July compared to the same period a year ago, according to data from NielsenIQ, and the average prices of menstrual care products rose 10% over the same period. . But routine care items and diapers aren’t covered by federal assistance programs and may be subject to sales taxes of 4 to 8 percent nationwide, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
“While the removal of the sales tax is extremely important, the layers [and] vintage supplies are out of reach for many of us,” especially low- and middle-income consumers, Goldblum said.
New data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the pace of consumer price increases is beginning to slow. Inflation reached 8.5% in July compared to the same month a year ago, against 9.1% in June. But while the cost of plane tickets and used cars fell last month, personal care items – a category that includes menstrual products – rose 1% from June to July and are around 5% higher than a year ago. Prices for infant and toddler clothing, which includes baby diapers, fell slightly last month, but are still up 8.2% from a year ago.
It adds up. Children need at least 50 diaper changes a week, or 200 diaper changes a month, the NDBN estimates. Eliminating a 7% sales tax on diapers could save a family about $66 a year, the group says. On average, a person who is menstruating will use about 17,000 tampons or pads — worth about $1,800 — in their lifetime, according to the American Medical Association.
Michelle, a 29-year-old mental health worker in Los Angeles, said she spends between $300 and $360 a year on periodic care products, including pain relief. Michelle, who requested that only her first name be used for privacy reasons, recently started new birth control that eliminates her period altogether. She hoped it would help her save some money, but the drugs cost about $30 a month, even with insurance — basically a wash.
“With these hygiene products, what are you going to do? You can’t not buy them,” she said. “These companies have a captive consumer.”
As California extended its tax exemption for menstrual products through next year, Michelle said she still thinks it’s worth sticking with a pill that can eliminate her painful period. But as she pointed out, Viagra is not subject to California state sales tax.
In some parts of the country, a shopper can buy prescription erectile dysfunction pills or an over-the-counter hair loss treatment, like Rogaine, because these products are considered medical necessities, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. , a program run by the National Diaper Bank Network. Meanwhile, a consumer at the same pharmacy could pay sales tax on Tampax or Huggies, which are considered non-essential items.
“It just seems unfair, and especially in today’s political climate where people are already dealing with so much,” Michelle said. “It looks like some sort of attack on people with wombs.”
Some tax experts oppose the elimination of sales taxes on individual items such as diapers and menstrual care products. This reduces the overall share of goods that can be taxed and risks policymakers raising taxes on a smaller group of purchases, said Katherine Lughead, senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit that generally supports the lower taxes. This could reduce state budgets for public services without much relief from the pressure on consumers’ wallets in the end.
“An ideal structure would say that all retail purchases should be subject to sales tax, because that means rates can stay quite low,” she said.