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The Formula Crisis Takes an Economic Toll on Families in Gas Money and Wasted Hours

The shortage comes as inflation is squeezing household budgets, and hits low-wage workers especially hard.

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Willie Quan, a father in Massachusetts, spent hours driving to about a dozen different stores in a day, getting down on his hands and knees to search for the last remaining bottles of baby formula on a bottom shelf. Saida Cardona, a mom of three in New Jersey, doesn’t have a car, so she’s spending $150 a week to take taxis back and forth to her local Walmart and other stores to hunt for the Enfamil her 6-month-old needs. Jennifer Villegas, a 19-year-old mother in Texas who doesn’t work so she can stay at home with her 5-month-old son, has lost more than $150 to scammers purporting to sell formula online.

The US baby formula crisis has been getting worse. Out-of-stock rates spiked to 74% nationally for the week ended May 28, up from 70% the previous week, based on data from the retail tracking firm Datasembly. In 10 states, the rates were 90% or higher. While incoming shipments and rebooted production give some reason to hope the crisis could improve in coming weeks, for now it’s still taking a heavy toll on families. There’s the panic of not knowing where your child’s next meal might come from. But parents are also paying an economic price.