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The median income in the United States for a family of four is around $50,000 a year. But there are currently more than 46 million people living on less than $23,000 a year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and 20 million of those live on half of that. That means a lot of families have to sacrifice in ways others might not think about, like these items:
1. Clean laundry
The average American household does 400 loads of laundry a year, the EPA reports. And many of those loads are done at laundromats. An analysis from the Simple Dollar, a finance blog, estimates that a load of laundry (washed and dried) done at the laundromat costs around $3 each. If the average family is doing 400 loads a year—that's more than one load of laundry a day—the costs rack up to $1,200. But many can't afford that.
NPR reports, "Laundry is a daunting chore for many people, but for the working poor, the cost of doing laundry — not to mention the time involved in hauling it to a laundromat — can be prohibitive. It can also mean going without other basic essentials." That's why Laundry Love, a national nonprofit organization, supports local groups across the country who help low-income and homeless families pay for the simple task of cleaning their clothes.
2. Tampons and pads
The Guardian's Jessica Valenti writes, "For too many girls, the products that mark 'becoming a woman' are luxuries, not givens. And for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue."
An analysis from Jezebel and Drugstore.com reports that the cost of either tampons or pads for the average woman are around $60 a month.
And that extends to women in developing countries, who, in some cases, still lack basic information about best practices when it comes to feminine hygiene. Mark Mokhiber, a chief officer at the United Nations, has said that sanitation is “an enormous human rights challenge of the 21st century that has yet to be met.”
3. Back-to-school shopping
Families with kids pay a pretty penny to get ready for school each year. The Huffington Post reported that "while back-to-school spending last year averaged $688.62 for families with K-12 children, spending this year is expected to average $634.78, according to the National Retail Federation. In total, families are expected to spend a total of $26.7 billion for K-12 children, although that number reaches $72.5 billion when college-aged kids are added to calculations."
And that hits the poor extra hard. According to NBC, "An annual survey conducted by Huntington Bank finds that a backpack and school supplies for a middle-school student this year will run parents about $312, up more than $100 from last year — the large jump due mainly to a more expensive calculator."
4. Nutritious food
Healthy food is costly, and it's no secret that those facing poverty struggle to pay for — not to mention take the time to prepare — healthy food.
Reuters writes that "more than 50% of people ate food that was past its expiration date or bought food in damaged or dented packages. Those foods are more likely to be marked down, and they can be dangerous, especially if they’re not handled and stored properly."