The Wal-Mart recession

Another dismal economic indicator: Paycheck-related spikes in baby formula purchases

Published October 22, 2008 9:49PM (EDT)

Here's my nominee for who really needs a bailout: Wal-Mart moms.

FreeExchange points us to an discomfiting Reuters story telling us what can be learned about the economy from parsing Wal-Mart sales figures.

As the economy worsens, Wal-Mart's customers have increasingly shown signs of living paycheck to paycheck.

Wal-Mart's sales typically surge around pay periods at the beginning and middle of the month. [Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations} said that spike has become more pronounced as consumers' budgets become more stressed...

...In a "disturbing" trend, Castro-Wright said Wal-Mart for the first time is seeing a paycheck-related spike in sales of baby formula, suggesting consumers are rushing to buy such necessities as soon as they have the cash.

When families put off buying baby formula until the paycheck arrives, they are teetering on the brink.

UPDATE: A colleague informs me that there is a federal program that subsidizes milk formula -- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- better known as the WIC Program.

In 2006, Katharine Mieszkowski wrote in Salon:

Women who are pregnant, postpartum or breast-feeding, along with their infants and children up to age 5, are eligible. In addition to food vouchers for staples like milk, cheese and eggs, participants receive counseling on nutrition and breast feeding. The program's reach is so vast that it serves 45 percent of all babies born in the United States, a commentary on how many babies are born into poverty.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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