New Study Reveals Many American Families Struggle to Afford Basic Personal Care Items and Household Goods

September 19, 2013

A new study, In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials, released today by Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief organization, reveals that many families with children struggle to afford basic, non-food household goods, including products related to personal care, household care and baby care. 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. The study was made possible by long-standing donor and Feeding America Mission Partner Procter & Gamble.

The 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. However, until now, there has been a lack of information about the struggle to obtain other essential household goods.

The nationally representative survey conducted for this 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. These include 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. 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."

"This study demonstrates the importance American families place on personal and household care items in their lives," said Brian Sasson, Manager of Social Investments at Procter & Gamble."Over the past 30 years we have been proud to contribute funds and donate P&G products to the Feeding America network of food banks to help ease the burden for some of these families in need."

The findings from In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials are based on a two-phase study. Qualitative interviews with local food pantry clients conducted in partnership with the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign informed a nationally representative phone survey designed in collaboration with Abt SRBI. In early 2012, Abt SRBI interviewed more than 1,800 American households with children. In this research, low-income is defined as less than 200% of the federal poverty level, which equates to less than $45,600 a year for a family of four. All participating respondents had at least one child under the age of 18 for whom they were the primary caregiver. To read more about In Short Supply: American Families Struggle to Secure Everyday Essentials, click here.


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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs, we helped provide 5.3 billion meals to tens of millions of people in need last year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; brings attention to the social and systemic barriers that contribute to food insecurity in our nation; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit, find us on Facebook or follow us on