By now, we’ve all become accustomed to supply chain issues as Covid outbreaks destabilize commercial networks the world over. From the early days when it was a run on toilet paper and beans to the sudden shortage of microchips that has affected everything from smartphone to new car production to the skyrocketing price of lumber. But the latest, a baby formula shortage, could be one of the most devastating. Unlike new phones or cars, which we can all live without without too much consequence, baby formula is essential for scores of parents.
The shortage, a result of supply chain disruptions coupled with a major recall, has parents scrambling to find formula, with some resorting to more drastic measures. Although the shortage and children with rare conditions who rely on formula is taking much of the spotlight, beneath the sensational stories lies a significant structural issue that affects nearly all working parents in the US: the lack of federally mandated parental leave—the US remains the only OECD country without any such policy.
Naturally, people are also taking this opportunity to demonize working mothers, especially in places like southern Texas where many mothers work long hours at low-wage jobs that offer no health insurance or time off. For them there is little chance for them to breastfeed, and they often must rely on formula to ensure their children’s health. This shortage is another glaring example of what a travesty it is that parents are forced into such difficult decisions with virtually no safety net.