Health Insurance

80% of Black Households With an Infant Say They’ve Been Affected by the Formula Shortage in 2022

80% of Black Households With an Infant Say They’ve Been Affected by the Formula Shortage in 2022

Despite less media coverage in recent months, the formula shortage is still ongoing. Between Oct. 5 and 17 — the latest data at the time of our research — 35% of households with an infant that typically uses formula said they had difficulty obtaining it in the past seven days.
A baby drinks from a bottle.
A baby drinks from a bottle. Source: Getty Images

This year’s baby formula shortage has left parents and caregivers scouring stores and websites to find the food they need to feed their children. Many months into the shortage, the problem remains substantial, as 35.2% of households with an infant say they’ve had difficulty obtaining formula over a week-long period.

We looked at the demographics most affected by the infant formula shortage and where they live. Stick around to learn how your health insurance can help alleviate formula shortage concerns.

Key findings

  • 52.9% of U.S. households with an infant younger than 1 say they were affected by this year’s formula shortage. At the time of the survey, 35.2% of households with an infant that typically uses formula said they had difficulty obtaining it in the past seven days, highlighting it remains a substantial problem since dropping visibility from the news cycle.
  • Nevada has the highest rate of households with an infant that say they’ve dealt with this formula shortage. 85.6% of these households cited this in Nevada, followed by 77.2% in Louisiana and 74.9% in Oregon. Meanwhile, Minnesota was far and away the state with the lowest rate of households with an infant that say they’ve dealt with it at 10.3%. The next closest states are Kansas (22.0%) and North Dakota (23.2%).
  • 4 in 5 Black households with an infant (80.1%) say they were affected by the shortage. That compared with 52.3% of Latino households, 51.1% of white households and 29.5% of Asian households.
  • More than half of households with an infant dealing with the shortage say they’ve gotten formula at a store different from where they usually shop (55.1%) or changed to a different brand (52.1%). Meanwhile, 32.9% of these households increased breastfeeding.

More than half of households with an infant were affected by this year’s formula shortage

This year’s infant formula shortage has affected the majority of caregivers with an infant. In total, 52.9% of U.S. households with a child younger than 1 say they were impacted. Across the U.S. early in May, 43% of the top-selling baby formulas were out of stock, according to research from Datasembly — a situation that ValuePenguin health insurance expert Nick VinZant calls unprecedented.

"We really faced a perfect storm," VinZant says. "Infant formula already faced supply chain problems due to COVID-19. The shortage was then worsened by a recall — and subsequent factory plant shutdown — from major formula manufacturer Abbott Laboratories."

The recall came after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received consumer complaints about four infant hospitalizations resulting in two deaths. Although Abboott says no formula product was conclusively linked to the infant illnesses, it voluntarily recalled one brand of powder formula and two lines of specialized formula due to suspicions of contamination. The manufacturer then shut down its Michigan plant — which had been responsible for producing around 20% of the U.S.’s formula supply — until July 10.

However, Abbott announced on Aug. 26 it would resume production of all its recalled formulas. The company, which is responsible for producing about 46% of all baby formula in the U.S., estimated at the time that it would take about six weeks for the product to begin shipping to retail locations — leaving consumers to grapple with reduced supply until early October.

Caregivers are still dealing with the consequences of the shortage. Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 17 — the most recent data at the time of our research — 35.2% of households with an infant that typically uses formula said they had difficulty obtaining it in the past seven days. And households in some states are having more difficulty than others (more on that next).

Nevada has the highest rate of households with an infant that say they’ve dealt with the formula shortage

Nevada has the highest rate of households with an infant that say they’ve dealt with the formula shortage. In total, 85.6% of these households in Nevada say they were affected by the shortage.

States with the highest rate of households with an infant affected by the formula shortage

Rank
State
Number of households with an infant affected by formula shortage
Number of households with an infant not affected by formula shortage
% affected
1Nevada47,1127,89585.6%
2Louisiana60,49217,83377.2%
3Oregon54,57618,27274.9%
4Virginia103,54636,13974.1%
5Vermont6,0492,30672.4%

Source: ValuePenguin analysis of U.S. Household Pulse Survey data fielded from Oct. 5 to 17 — the latest available at the time of research.

Participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program may play a role. According to the Center for American Progress, around half of all infant formula in the U.S. is distributed through WIC. Those enrolled in WIC are limited to the approved formula options. With Abbott supplying 47% of the infants getting formula through WIC, many participants were left without options at the grocery store when the shortage began.

In Nevada, a monthly average of 10,397 infants enrolled in WIC are partially or fully formula-fed. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted flexibility for WIC participants’ formula options in response to the shortage, they’re still limited to the approved options — which may not be in stock.

After Nevada, 77.2% of households with an infant in Louisiana and 74.9% of those in Oregon say the shortage impacted them. For context:

  • A monthly average of 25,257 Louisiana infants enrolled in WIC are partially or fully formula-fed.
  • A monthly average of 9,934 Oregon infants enrolled in WIC are partially or fully formula-fed.

On the other end of the list, Minnesota has the lowest rate of households with an infant that say they’ve dealt with it, at 10.3%. That’s followed by Kansas (22.0%) and North Dakota (23.2%). While a monthly average of 17,388 Minnesota infants enrolled in WIC are partially or fully formula-fed, Kansas and North Dakota had a lower monthly average than the top-ranking states. In Kansas, a monthly average of 8,480 infants enrolled in WIC are partially or fully formula-fed. In North Dakota, the average monthly number of infants enrolled in WIC similarly fed is 1,765.

Full rankings: States with the highest rate of households with an infant affected by the formula shortage

Rank
State
Number of households with an infant affected by formula shortage
Number of households with an infant not affected by formula shortage
% affected
1Nevada47,1127,89585.6%
2Louisiana60,49217,83377.2%
3Oregon54,57618,27274.9%
4Virginia103,54636,13974.1%
5Vermont6,0492,30672.4%
6Wisconsin54,09022,65470.5%
7Georgia159,72770,08169.5%
8South Carolina70,74231,20569.4%
9Michigan150,30470,66568.0%
10Indiana129,75962,99467.3%
11Texas333,457181,60064.7%
12Alabama40,74323,37363.5%
Show All Rows

Source: ValuePenguin analysis of U.S. Household Pulse Survey data fielded from Oct. 5 to 17.

4 in 5 Black households with an infant say they were affected by the shortage

The formula shortage hasn’t impacted every demographic in the same way. In fact, 4 in 5 Black households with an infant (80.1%) say they were affected by the shortage — well above any other race.

Comparatively, 52.3% of Latino households and 51.1% of white households said similarly. Meanwhile, just 29.5% of Asian households said the formula shortage impacted them.

Percentage of households with an infant affected by the formula shortage (by race)

Race
Number of households with an infant affected by the shortage
Number of households with an infant not affected by the formula shortage
% affected
Black460,507114,05180.1%
Latino727,500663,06152.3%
White1,927,9721,848,11651.1%
Asian104,576250,19029.5%
2 or more races or other races180,165149,81254.6%

Source: ValuePenguin analysis of U.S. Household Pulse Survey data fielded from Oct. 5 to 17.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black infants are breastfed less than other racial groups, which likely contributes to this figure. About three-fourths (74.1%) of Black infants are ever breastfed. That compares with 83.0% of Latino infants and 85.3% of white infants. Meanwhile, 90.8% of Asian infants are breastfed at least once — significantly higher than most other groups.

That’s not the only disparity. By marital status, 78.2% of divorced or separated households with an infant said they’ve been affected by the formula shortage. That compares with just 48.5% of married households with an infant. There are discrepancies by education as well, as 65.5% of those whose highest education level is a high school degree or GED diploma say they’ve been impacted by the shortage, while just 43.2% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree say similarly.

Households with infants are shopping elsewhere, changing formula brands, breastfeeding

Consumers impacted by the formula shortage are doing what they can to combat it. More than half of households with an infant who were impacted say they’ve gotten formula at a store different from where they usually shop (55.1%) or changed to a different brand (52.1%).

Latino households affected by the shortage are the most likely racial group to say they’ve gotten formula at a different store, at 67.7%. On the other hand, white households are the most likely racial group to change formula brands, at 59.4%.

Meanwhile, 32.9% of households affected by the shortage say they increased breastfeeding. Asian households affected by the shortage are the most likely racial group to do so, with 72.4% saying they’ve dealt with the shortage this way. Just 48.2% of Latino households — the second most likely group — said similarly.

Overall, consumers also combatted the shortage by:

  • Receiving formula online (38.2%)
  • Changing from powder to liquid (24.5%)
  • No longer offering infant formula (13.0%)
  • Ordering directly from an infant formula company (10.9%)
  • Watering down formula or making their own (10.4%)
  • Changing from infant formula to something else (9.7%)

Obtaining infant formula in an emergency: What to know

If you’re dealing with the infant formula shortage, you’re not alone. While it may be difficult and stressful to obtain the food your baby needs, VinZant says you can do a few things to combat the shortage. If you’re able to breastfeed, he recommends utilizing support programs offered through most health insurance plans.

"Most insurance companies aren’t going to cover formula-related expenses; however, most insurance plans are required by law to cover breastfeeding support such as counseling, lactation consulting and breastfeeding equipment," VinZant says. "Your pediatrician may also have samples or additional resources that can help."

You could also consider receiving donor milk from a qualified breast milk bank. In some states, Medicaid (and even a few commercial health insurance plans) cover the cost of purchasing donor breast milk. To better understand your coverage or learn about the required qualifications for donor milk coverage, contact your local Medicaid office or your insurance provider.

If you’re a WIC recipient, contact your local WIC office or use the WIC app to see which alternative formula brands are available. While the USDA has enacted regulations allowing for flexibility in formula options, some states have further expanded the list of formula brands offered under their WIC programs.

Methodology

To estimate the impact of the infant formula shortage in 2022, ValuePenguin researchers analyzed U.S. Household Pulse Survey data fielded from Oct. 5 to 17 — the latest available at the time of research.

Specifically, researchers analyzed data from respondents who had an infant in their household and were affected by the shortage. We estimated the percentage of people affected at the state level and by various demographics.

Additionally, we looked at whether households with infants had difficulty obtaining infant formula in the past seven days — at the time of the survey — and how they responded to the shortage.