The Pink Tax

It’s true: people with periods have been and still are taxed for menstruating.

The “pink tax” is a term used to describe the phenomenon of products marketed towards women being more expensive than equivalent products marketed towards men. This is a significant issue in many areas, including personal care and hygiene products. One product category that is particularly affected by the pink tax is menstrual products.

First, it’s essential to understand the basic principles of the pink tax. This term refers to the fact that products marketed towards women, even if they are the same as products marketed towards men, are often more expensive. This can include anything from personal care products like razors and shampoo to clothing and toys. The pink tax has been well-documented by numerous studies, including a 2018 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs which found that products marketed towards women were on average 7 percent more expensive than equivalent products marketed towards men.

When it comes to menstrual products, the pink tax can have a significant impact on women’s wallets. Menstrual products, such as pads and tampons, are a necessity for women who menstruate. The cost of these products can add up quickly, and the pink tax only exacerbates this issue. In many cases, menstrual products marketed towards women are significantly more expensive than similar products marketed towards men.

For example, consider the cost of a pack of tampons. Bekah Page-Gourley, the affiliate director for I Support Girls-Detroit said, “Right now, a box of 34 Tampax Pearl tampons is $8.49 at Target, a box of 18 CVS Health brand tampons is $3.89 at CVS, and a box of 100 Tampax Pearl super tampons is $19.89 on Amazon.”

She also said that reusable products like cups and period underwear, while perhaps more monetarily efficient in the long term and better for the environment, aren’t a good option for people who don’t have access to soap and water or laundry facilities regularly. And they’re still very expensive.

To zoom out on the cost, Troy Moore, the chief of external affairs for the Alliance for Period Supplies, shared that “people who menstruate require around 40 period products per cycle. Over their reproductive lifetime [ages 12 – 52], people who menstruate may spend more than $6,300 on period products.”

This disparity in pricing is even more concerning when considering the fact that menstrual products are not a luxury item. They are a necessity for many women. Access to menstrual products is critical for women’s health, hygiene and the ability to participate in daily life. Without access to menstrual products, women may be unable to attend school or work, engage in physical activities, or even leave their homes. Yet, despite this, many women struggle to afford these products due to the pink tax.

Another issue that compounds the problem of the pink tax for menstrual products is the fact that these products are often subject to sales tax. In most states in the U.S., menstrual products are taxed as “luxury items” or “non-essential” products. This is despite the fact that they are a basic necessity for women who menstruate. This tax can add up quickly, especially for low-income women who may struggle to afford these products in the first place.

“Sales taxes are regressive and disproportionately impact low-wage workers and people living in poverty as they pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes,” Moore stated.

Fortunately, there has been a growing movement in recent years to address the pink tax and the issue of menstrual product affordability. Some states in the U.S., including Michigan, have passed laws that eliminate sales tax on menstrual products.  Moore said that Michigan signed  H.B. 5267 in 2021, which ended the state sales tax on menstrual products.

Today, 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia specifically exempt period products from state sales tax, while 22 states continue to impose sales tax. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon have no state sales tax.

This is a significant step in the right direction, as it helps to make these products more affordable for women who need them.

“Getting rid of the tax didn’t solve the access problem,” said Page-Gourley.

“The products themselves are extremely expensive, even when people are able to purchase them tax-free. Those costs are especially hard for lower income women who have to budget a larger percentage of their household funds for necessities.”

The price disproportionately affects Black women and Latinas. According to a 2021 study conducted by U by Kotex® found that two in five people who menstruate have struggled to purchase period products due to a lack of money. A quarter of Black (23 percent) and Latina (24 percent) people with periods strongly agree that they’ve struggled to afford period products in the past year.

Over one-third (38 percent) of under-resourced women report missing work, school or similar events due to lack of access to period supplies (not being able to afford the products they need).

Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) people agree that period poverty is a public health issue.

There have also been efforts to make menstrual products more accessible to low-income women. For example, some schools and universities have begun to provide free menstrual products in bathrooms, and some states have implemented programs to distribute free menstrual products to low-income women. These efforts help to ensure that women who may struggle to afford these products can access them when they need them.

Ultimately, the pink tax is an unfair and discriminatory practice that has significant implications for women’s health and financial stability. When it comes to menstrual products, the pink tax can make it difficult for women to afford the products they need to manage their periods.

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