Families desperate amid baby formula shortage, Jen Psaki steps down: 5 Things podcast

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: Families increasingly desperate amid baby formula shortage

Lawmakers are pointing fingers. Moms are finding solutions. Plus, reporter Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy talks about new polling on just how few Americans think it’s a good time to buy a house, reporter Jessica Guynn talks about ‘shareholder activism,’ Jen Psaki steps down as White House Press Secretary and today is the final day of existence for Lincoln College in Illinois.

Podcasts: True crime, in-depth interviews and more USA TODAY podcasts right here.

Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson and this is 5 Things you need to know Friday, the 13th of May 2022. Today, a closer look at the baby formula shortage. Plus few Americans think it’s a good time to buy a home and more.

Taylor Wilson:

Here are some of the top headlines.

  1. UNICEF says nearly a hundred Ukrainian children were killed last month alone. A humanitarian agency also said about one in six UNICEF supported schools in Eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war.
  2. A Russian soldier is scheduled to go on trial today in the killing of an unarmed Ukrainian civilian. It’s the first time since Russia launched its invasion in February, that a member of the Russian military will be prosecuted for a war crime.
  3. Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh will be laid to rest in Jerusalem today. Witnesses say Israeli forces shot and killed her earlier this week while she was covering a military operation in the occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera says Israel deliberately killed her, while Israel says a full investigation is needed to determine if Israeli or Palestinian forces fired the fatal shot.

A shortage of baby formula across the country is getting worse. More than 40% of popular baby formula brands were sold out at retailers in the US by the end of the first week of May. That’s according to analysis from Data Assembly. The issue has been sparked by a number of factors, including supply chain issues, product recalls, and historic inflation. The largest infant formula manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, recalled batches in February of Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare formulas. The FDA in March found that the formula maker failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at a Michigan plant. Moms like Jennifer Kersey are trying to find ways to adapt. She reached out to other moms on Facebook for extra formula.

Jennifer Kersey:

I think if we don’t share, I think it’s going to be a problem. As fast as these companies make this formula, we can get them back on the shelf. So I’m just asking everybody if you have, please give. Don’t order. Let’s all work together because these are babies. You know, they got to eat.

Taylor Wilson:

Some Republican lawmakers yesterday, criticized President Joe Biden for the formula shortage. During a House Republican led press conference, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the issue is a matter of life or death.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers:

President Biden and the FDA must do more. This is a matter of life or death. What will it take for the Biden administration to reverse its inflation, supply chain and energy crises that are making the shortage worse?

Taylor Wilson:

The Biden administration said yesterday that it’s using every tool to try and fix the shortage. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Jen Psaki:

Today, President Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers, including the CEOs of Walmart, Target, Reckett and Gerber, to call on them to do more, to help families purchase infant formula. He discussed Reckett and Gerber’s efforts to increase production, which have made up for the loss of production by Abbott, and asked them to identify other ways the administration can help them.

Taylor Wilson:

For all the latest on the baby formula shortages, stay with USATODAY.com.

A new Gallup poll is showing the frustrations of potential home buyers around the US and few Americans think that it’s a good time to buy a house, even compared to the great recession. National housing and economy correspondent, Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, has more.

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy:

So according to the most recent economy and personal finance poll conducted by Gallup, only 30% of Americans believe it’s a good time to buy a house. This is a poll that has been conducted annually since 1978, and this is the very first time in its 44 year history that most Americans have felt this way. The numbers had never dipped below 50% until now. At the same time, 70% of Americans are predicting that average local housing prices will increase over the next year.

PJ Elliott:

So why do you think Americans are down on housing?

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy:

So over the past two years, US home prices have gone up by more than 30% and it’s been a super heated housing market. I think the poll reflects the frustration and pessimism of potential home buyers who are dealing with high home prices, sharply rising mortgage rates and a lack of inventory, and in some cases, bidding wars.

So surprisingly, even in 2008 when the housing bubble had just burst and mortgage rates were above 6%, the number of Americans saying it was a good time to buy a home stood in the low fifties. That’s more than 20 percentage points compared to today.

PJ Elliott:

So what does all this mean for the demand in houses? Could we start to see prices come down?

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy:

I think we are in a period of transition where we are still hearing about bidding wars, but we are also hearing about price cuts. So over the past four months, the average 30 year fixed mortgage rate has spiked from about 3.1% to 5%, and according to Redfin, 12% of homes have cut their asking prices in April. They’re also seeing a lack of demand in general, in the sense that they’re seeing 3% lesser tours have been requested. So maybe people are feeling priced out. It also could be an indication that home price growth is finally decelerating, that is prices could start increasing at more moderate levels.

Taylor Wilson:

Check out Swapna’s full story in today’s show description.

Facing growing pressure from customers, employees and investors, companies are increasingly taking public stands on hot button political and social issues like racial justice and climate change. And as tech and economic opportunity reporter, Jessica Guynn tells us, this shareholder activism is part of a broader campaign against what conservatives are calling woke capitalism.

Jessica Guynn:

Conservative shareholder activists are up in arms about companies embracing ESG, and ESG stands for social, environmental and governance. Basically it means that companies take into account those kinds of factors when they’re making decisions. So like racial justice or climate change. It’s emerged as a pretty hot trend in recent years and it has the support of big money managers who own a very significant chunk of the big companies in the country. It also appeals to customers and to employees. They want to buy from companies that do well and do good and they want to work for those companies that have sustainability in mind.

But conservatives are upset because they say this is just liberal politics taking over the executive suite and the boardrooms of these companies. This year, they’ve stepped up that what they’re calling their fight for corporate America and they’re submitting a record number of shareholder proposals, mostly geared to keeping these companies out of politics.

They haven’t been very successful at it thus far, but they have been able to get many of these proposals on the ballots for shareholders to vote on. They don’t tend to get a lot of support, but it also gives them an opportunity to draw attention to these issues.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that they have the ear of politicians across the country. Former Vice President, and possible 2024 presidential candidate, Mike Pence, gave a speech this week in Houston on energy policy. He took that moment to criticize this kind of investing and he called on government to rein in ESG.

Senator Rubio announced a bill that would allow shareholders to sue corporations if their business strategies diverge from their fiduciary duty to maximize returns for investors. So this is in an election year, an issue that is starting to be talked about more and more.

Jen Psaki will leave her role as White House Press Secretary today. She’s declined to discuss her future professional plans, but is reportedly set to host a show on MSNBC. Taking her place is Karine Jean-Pierre. She’s served as the Deputy Press Secretary under Psaki, and formerly the chief of staff for Vice President Kamala Harris. She also worked in the Obama-Biden administration and was the Deputy Battleground States Director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. She’ll become the first black woman and first openly LGBTQ person to have the job. Jen Psaki celebrated Karine last week.

Jen Psaki:

I just want to take the opportunity to celebrate and congratulate my friend, my colleague, my partner in truth, Karine Jean-Pierre, the next White House Press Secretary. Now many people in this room have known her for some time, but for anyone who does not know her, I want to provide a little bit of a primer for you. So settle in. First, as you all know, she will be the first Black woman, the first out LGBTQ+ person to serve in this role.

Taylor Wilson:

Jen Psaki has been one of the faces of the Biden administration since day one. Biden thanked her for “raising the bar, communicating directly and truthfully to the American people and keeping her sense of humor while doing so.” He also said that Psaki returned decency, respect and decorum to the White House briefing room.

Today is the final day of existence for Lincoln College. The Historically Black institution was founded in 1865 in Lincoln, Illinois, about 170 miles from Chicago. But after 157 years, it’s closing its doors. That comes amid low enrollment due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and a ransomware attack that crippled the school’s computer systems. Lincoln’s president, David Gerlach, told the Chicago Tribune that the school paid a ransom of less than $100,000 after the attack that he said originated in Iran. Lincoln hosted its final commencement ceremony on Saturday, honoring 235 graduates.

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. You can find us wherever you’re listening right now, seven mornings a week. Thanks to PJ Elliott for his great work on the show, and I’m back tomorrow with more 5 Things from USA TODAY.