The United States is a country on the go, but it’s easier for some Americans to get there than others. According to the Podiatric Medical Association of America about 7% of Americans suffer from limb loss, and about 20% of Americans suffer from a condition resulting in different sized feet. Factors contributing to this include diabetes, cancer, bone related deformities, and accidents. That’s 86 million Americans who face a difficult time fulfilling the most basic task necessary to be a functional member of society – buying shoes.
Most of us take for granted the ability to buy shoes. We are limited only by size, comfort, and a style that fits our pocketbook. For tens of millions of people, however, this seemingly mundane task is fraught with difficulty and unnecessary waste. Americans who do not have two feet of the same size are forced to buy shoes in matched pairs, effectively discarding the other shoe. The Center for Mobility Disparity estimates that tens of millions of dollars are wasted each year on shoes that are not needed and never worn. “It’s really a national epidemic,” says center director George Hassenfield. “Most Americans have no idea of the struggle that shoe challenged Americans face. It hits women and minorities particularly hard.”
Most Americans, through the lottery of birth, have never struggled with shoe inequality. Top wage earners in our country have the luxury of purchasing two pairs of shoes if necessary, or merely discarding one shoe if they only have one functional limb. But for millions of Americans working hard to make ends meet, purchasing two pairs of shoes or paying for a second unneeded shoe, is a financial hardship. “Think about it” Hassenfield says “ most one-legged people you see in public are older, white males. This only demonstrates that they tend to be more mobile than other groups in society that don’t have the financial ability to cope. It’s a fundamental issue of fairness.”
Fortunately for struggling Americans, tucked inside the Affordable Care Act is a little-known provision that will end shoe inequality and put us on the track to shoe fairness. Most Americans can continue to purchase shoes as they normally would, but retailers will now be required to let patrons purchase only one shoe from a box or two shoes of different sizes from different boxes (as long as they’re of the same make and model). For accounting purposes, retailers will price shoes individually, with a premium placed on matched pairs.
A new pair of Nike tennis shoes currently averages about $100 at a typical sporting goods store. Under the new law, individuals purchasing a single shoe would only pay $30. To compensate retailers who might take a financial loss from all the left over shoes, the cost of a matching pair would include $70 for the second shoe plus a $20 fee to offset any losses from single shoes that have no buyers. This would raise the price of an average matching pair to $120.
“The program is really designed to help people who had difficulty getting shoes because of their medical condition,” says Congresswoman Denise Wright of California. “The reduced price of the single shoe will make a big difference to many struggling Americans.”
When asked what would keep someone from purchasing two single shoes at $30 each rather than purchasing a new pair of shoes at $120, Wright explains that the new law would only allow that if the shoes were of different sizes. Wright contends that the law operates on the premise that people will stick to matched pairs. “I think most people will keep their old shoe sizes, even if the price goes up a bit. I can’t imagine people choosing one shoe a half-size larger just to save $60.” In addition, Wright notes, each store will be required to have a federally certified shoe navigator to help consumers make informed choices.
“This program’s been a long time coming,” says the Congresswoman. “If the federal government can’t help Americans pick their shoes, then I don’t know what it means to live in America anymore.”