What Diapers and Rash Cream Tell Us About the Economy
Diaper sales are plummeting. Across all categories—brand name, generic, bulk and so on—sales are down. Why? Not because new technology has made them obsolete. It’s because people are cutting their budgets to the bone.
It could be a sign the economy is worse than many perceive. Even survivalists—end-of-the-world types—commonly list diapers as potentially one of the most sought-after luxuries in a post-Wal-Mart world.
But don’t feel too sorry for the diaper companies. Sure, they may be taking a bath on diaper sales, but they are cleaning up selling rash ointment: Sales are up 8 percent for the year. Why is that? Less-frequent changes.
The biggest spikes in diaper rashes appear to be in inner cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, a sign that even in neighborhoods that are massively subsidized by social programs, people are struggling more than usual. It is a choice between diapers and paying for food and heat, says Daniel Taylor, a pediatrician in Philadelphia.
With unemployment so high, and wages that haven’t budged in a decade, for many people there is just no room for error.
A September national poll found that one in three Americans would be unable to make their mortgage payment or rent beyond one month if they lost their job. A whopping 10 percent of respondents earning $100,000 per year or more said they couldn’t even cover one month if they lost their job.
America is living in a new “trickle-down poverty era,” writes the Oklahoman’s Malcolm Berko. During the decade from 1997 to 2007, consumers took on more debt than they had for the previous 100 years combined.
Inmates Running the Firehouse
The government led the way. George W. Bush added $1.5 trillion to the national debt in his first term. He added another $3 trillion in his second. President Obama is on track to add as much debt during his first four years as President Bush did in his eight disastrous budget years. Then on November 16, the Treasury Department said the debt had climbed to a record $15 trillion—almost 100 percent of America’s gdp.
Of course, debt eventually needs to be repaid (or defaulted on). This becomes impossible when it is especially gargantuan.
This is where America is today, indicates Berko. This generation “will have a lower standard of living than their parents”—that is just how it is going to be.
You can see the contraction in a lot of cities, not just the recent high-profile bankruptcies in Birmingham, Alabama; Vallejo, California; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In Highland Park, Michigan, the city is literally going dark. dte Energy has repossessed most of the city’s 1,400 light poles, and is selling them for their scrap metal value, as part of a settlement to cover $4 million in past-due bills. Residents report crime is already rising.
Money issues are so bad in Topeka, Kansas, that in October officials voted to decriminalize domestic violence in order to save the cost of prosecutions. The District Attorney’s office said it would also no longer prosecute any misdemeanors. As of September, 30 cases of domestic violence had been dropped.
In Georgia County, Florida, officials are mulling letting inmates staff firehouses. “The inmates would have no guard, but would be monitored by a surveillance system and by the traditional firefighters, who would undergo training to guard the inmates,” reported the Florida Times Union (Oct. 8, 2011). The move would save the county up to $100,000 per convict. California already has 4,000 inmates serving in firehouses.
Cities going dark. Law and order going unenforced. Criminals released from jails. Rich getting richer. Poor getting poorer. Upper-class people living paycheck to paycheck. $15 trillion national debt. It is hard to picture prosperous pre-2008-economic-crash America coming back anytime soon.
In fact, America’s economic condition will get much worse before it gets better. Soon, cutting back on diapers will be the least of people’s worries.