As inflation drives up the cost of menstrual care products and diapers, more and more states are reducing sales taxes on such items to ease the pressure on consumer budgets.
Colorado enacted a law on Wednesday that would exempt these goods from state sales tax starting next year, when a similar measure will be taken in Iowa. Louisiana consumers won’t have to wait that long; The state eliminated its sales tax on diapers and menstrual hygiene products effective July 1. Period care items already have state sales tax exemptions in Florida, Maryland and New York, each of which has extended carve-outs to diapers in recent weeks. Florida did the same thing last month, if only for a year.
Researchers estimate that in the US nearly 17 million menstruating people live in poverty and hundreds of thousands lack access to necessary hygiene products and facilities. According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 23 states tax period care items as non-essential items and 29 treat diapers the same way and not as necessities like groceries or toilet paper. Consumer advocates have long railed against the rule as a “pink tax” for up to half of the population – the half who care disproportionately about children.
“There is an enormous gap between what US [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 partially funded by Kotex that helps distribute diapers to struggling caregivers.
Like many household goods, diapers and period products have skyrocketed in price as pandemic-related pressures rattle supply chains and slow manufacturing. According to data from NielsenIQ, the average cost of diapers rose 13% in July from the same time a year ago, and the average price of menstrual care products rose 10% over the same period. However, period care items and diapers are not covered by state aid programs and can be subject to sales taxes of 4% to 8% statewide, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
“While removing sales tax is incredibly important, diapers [and] Period needs are out of reach for many of us,” said Goldblum, particularly low- and middle-income consumers.
New data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday shows the pace of consumer price increases is gradually slowing. Inflation was 8.5% in July over the same month a year ago, versus 9.1% in June. But while the cost of airline tickets and used cars have fallen over the past month, personal care items — a category that includes menstrual products — are up 1% from June through July, about 5% higher than a year ago. Prices for baby and toddler clothing, which includes baby diapers, have fallen slightly over the past month but are still up 8.2% since last year.
That adds up. Children need at least 50 diaper changes a week, or 200 diaper changes a month, the NDBN estimates. Eliminating a 7 percent sales tax on diapers could save a family about $66 a year, the group says. According to the American Medical Association, on average, a person who is menstruating uses about 17,000 tampons or pads — worth about $1,800 — over the course of their lifetime.
Michelle, a 29-year-old psychotherapist in Los Angeles, said she used to spend $300 to $360 a year on menstrual care products, including pain relief. Michelle, who asked that only her first name be used for privacy reasons, recently introduced a new birth control method that eliminates her period entirely. She was hoping this would help save her money, but the drug costs about $30 a month, even with insurance — basically a wash.
“What are you going to do with these hygiene products? You can’t buy them,” she said. “These companies have a captive consumer.”
While California has extended its period product tax exemption into next year, Michelle says she’s still worth sticking with a pill that can eliminate her painful periods. But as she pointed out, Viagra isn’t subject to California sales tax.
In some parts of the country, a shopper may purchase prescription erectile dysfunction pills or an over-the-counter hair loss remedy such as Rogaine because these products are considered medical necessities, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies program run by the National Diaper Bank Network. Meanwhile, at the same drugstore, a consumer may pay sales tax on Tampax or Huggies, which are considered non-essential items.
“It just feels unfair, especially in this current political climate where people are already dealing with so much,” Michelle said. “It just feels like some kind of attack on people with wombs.”
Some tax experts oppose eliminating sales tax on individual items such as diapers and menstrual products. This shrinks the overall proportion of goods that can be taxed and risks policymakers levying taxes on a smaller pool of purchases, said Katherine Loughhead, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit that supports lower taxes in general . This could reduce government budgets for public services without easing the burden on consumers’ wallets in the end.
“An ideal structure would be that all retail purchases should be subject to sales tax, as this means prices can remain quite low,” she said.