Paycheck to Paycheck

[typography  size=”22″ size_format=”px”]42 million women are living at or below the poverty line, and an additional 28 million children are living alongside them.[/typography]


This is according to the film Paycheck to Paycheck, a documentary produced by Maria Shriver with data from the Shriver Report, showing a year in the life of a struggling single mother.  This film aired on HBO and is now available on HBOGo.  I heard about this movie through an email sent by the National Diaper Bank Network– it was said those who work or volunteer in the diaper bank world should watch.  So, I watched it.


In the film, we see Katrina Gilbert struggle to provide for her three children.  She was married ten years before splitting with her husband due to his painkiller addiction.  She became a CNA (certified nursing assistant) to pay the bills, working long days and even longer consecutive stretches to keep a roof over their heads.  She is paid what some may think is a good wage, higher than minimum even- $9.49 an hour, doing back breaking labor.   She works holidays and misses those moments with her children, probably for the same reason my own sister has to- they pay higher those days so it makes sense when you are broke.

Because her youngest child over the filming period is 3, we don’t see what struggles she would be facing when it comes to affording diapers.  She has trouble affording everything else so it only makes sense if her son were still in diapers that this would be another unwelcome expense.

Here is why this film matters– it shows a family that to anyone, doesn’t look “poor.”  The mom wears scrubs to work and she could easily be mistaken for a registered nurse.  For a while they are even living in a decent sized home with her boyfriend, which from the outside looks nice.  We find out at the end of the film it has suffered water damage and much of their property and clothing were ruined, several rooms weren’t even usable due to mildew, and they didn’t have the money to fix any of it.  I loved this movie because it shows the side of poverty we ignore- the working poor.

Many of us consider those living in poverty to be homeless.  People with homes, they aren’t poor.  They can afford homes so things are fine.  Katrina and her children lived in a trailer park (the same kind that I lived in my entire life) so that one is a little harder to call.  They had a car, the children wore clothing without holes or stains, and everyone looked nice and “normal” from the outside.  Yet, Katrina spent every cent of each check on her bills.  As a check came in, it went out.  The money was spent immediately.  Off and on she has food stamps, so some days she has better chances of getting all the groceries she needs.  She has no health insurance and so she ignores her own health issues because she can’t afford to pay for the medications or doctor visits.

The woman is working every day!  She is employed full time and yet she is living in a small, run down trailer and doesn’t have enough money to survive.  Her story is the story of a lot of Americans, probably even a lot of you who read this blog.  To those who claim over and over that people are poor because they are lazy, or won’t work, this isn’t usually the case.  If she were fairly compensated for the work she was doing her life would be more than ok, yet she isn’t so she has to work more hours to meet the pay that others can make in half the time.  In fact, Forbes just crunched the numbers

[typography  size=”24″ size_format=”px”]67 people are as wealthy as the world’s poorest 3.5 billion.  [/typography]


So many people dismiss cloth diapers as a non-option for those in poverty.  This movie shows a woman who had a home, (presumably) had access to laundry, but was still completely broke.  Other than the extra time commitment on a very busy schedule, there is no reason cloth diapers couldn’t work for a mom like Katrina if she wanted to use them.  No one can force them to, but shouldn’t they understand that they have the option?  The very network that suggested this film to watch is the one often quoted in the media saying cloth diapers won’t work for poor families.  This movie shows the side of poverty it could work for, the working poor, the ones who are just getting by but have a place to call home and have a washing machine.  $60 extra a month, enough to cover a prescription or a lot of staple food items, that is what they would save once they have the diapers in hand.

“But Kim, what about the start-up cost?”  

This is where I leave you with links for families who need help because they can’t afford the $300-$500 that it CAN cost to begin cloth diapering.

$15 DIY Cloth Diaper Stash using XXL t-shirts and fleece for tie-on covers.
Two FREE booklets on cloth diapering solutions for struggling families to read or download
Cloth Diapering on a Budget ideas
Apply to Giving Diapers, Giving Hope (a national cloth diaper lending service) or find a local cloth diaper bank near you.

It was very hard to watch this film and see the lifestyle I myself lived through before I moved to college.  It is the life that much of my family still lives, and my hometown is suffering a major increase in the poverty rates, currently at 28.4%.  Katrina’s story is the story of my sister, and one of my best friend’s, and millions of other women I’ve never even met.  I’m reminded of how fortunate I am that I don’t worry about how to feed my children or keep the lights on.  It is unfair that this is way things are and these are the choices families are making.  The gap between the wealthy and the poor keeps getting wider.  It is heartbreaking to see women doing everything they can, working one, two, even three jobs and still not having the money to pay for living expenses.  I can’t fix it but I want these families to know that they can stop lining the pockets of disposable diaper companies if they choose, and keep that money for what they need it for most while having peace of mind because they’ll never have to choose between buying diapers or food.


If you get the chance, please watch the film.  And if you feel that you would like to help a family like Katrina’s get cloth diapers, Giving Diapers, Giving Hope is always accepting good used condition or new cloth diapers.  You can also directly assist families by sponsoring the cost of shipping -this is a cost we can’t yet reduce since we do not yet have the financial support to do so.  You can also email us or apply on the website for assistance.

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