The chip shortage has a silver lining

“Manufacturers haven’t overcome the worldwide semiconductor shortage. Gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5 are still scarce, automakers are delivering cars with missing features, and Apple may end up producing 10 million fewer iPhones in 2021. For a few companies, however, these supply chain woes may have an unexpected upside.

The manufacturing delays abroad and relentless demand for consumer electronics have turned into a windfall for some chipmakers in the United States. Even lesser-known American manufacturers with aging or secondhand equipment have seen a surge in sales for the legacy chips, or microcontrollers, they produce. These parts are inexpensive to make but are a critical component for many devices, and as supply chain troubles have affected larger companies that focus on more advanced technologies, demand for the more basic chips has grown. Flush with customers, the companies that make these microcontrollers are now on a spending spree to boost their overall manufacturing capacity.”

Immigrants could fix the US labor shortage

“Companies across the United States can’t find enough employees. One immediate solution is simple: Bring in more foreign workers.

The US needs roughly 10 million people, including low-wage and high-skilled workers, to fill job openings nationwide — and only 8.4 million Americans are actively seeking work.

And despite job openings hitting historic highs in July and extended unemployment benefits ending in September, Americans aren’t returning to work, especially in low-wage industries. At the same time, workers are resigning in record numbers. And though consumer spending has surged this year, businesses don’t have the people to meet demand — to cope, some companies are raising their prices. Supply chain bottlenecks are even threatening to ruin Christmas.

When the economy is fragile, there’s an instinct to shut borders to protect American workers. And indeed, that’s what the US has done during the pandemic, practically bringing legal immigration to a halt and closing the southern border to migrants and asylum seekers. In a normal year, the US welcomes roughly 1 million immigrants, and roughly three-quarters of them end up participating in the labor force. In 2020, that number dropped to about 263,000.

Generally, economic research has shown that the arrival of low-wage foreign workers has little to no negative impact on native-born workers’ wages or employment. And under the current circumstances, welcoming more low-wage foreign workers could address acute labor shortages in certain industries, helping hard-hit areas of the country recover while staving off higher inflation.

The industries currently facing the worst labor shortages include construction; transportation and warehousing; accommodation and hospitality; and personal services businesses like salons, dry cleaners, repair services, and undertakers. All four industries had increases in job postings of more than 65 percent when comparing the months of May to July 2019 to the same time period in 2021, according to an analysis conducted for Vox by the pro-immigration New American Economy think tank. Immigrants make up at least 20 percent of the workforce in those industries.”

Brexit didn’t create the UK’s fuel crisis. But it did make it worse.

“A combination of factors are driving (heh) the United Kingdom’s fuel — or petrol, as it’s called — shortage.

There were disruptions in fuel delivery, but Brits’ desperation to get gas appears to be causing the current crisis. People are rushing to fill up their tanks because they are worried there will be a big shortage, and that is straining the available supply. Florian Lücker, a senior lecturer in supply chain management at the Bayes Business School at City, University of London, compared it to the US’s great toilet paper stockpiling at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have potential delays in supplies of fuel, among other things,” said Joanna Clifton-Sprigg, an assistant professor in economics at the University of Bath. “But it wouldn’t have been so bad if we all didn’t suddenly decide to go to a petrol station and fill the tanks to the full in every car we own.”

Why people were panic-buying gas in the first place is a bit more complicated. It’s not because of a national lack of fuel or gas. The UK has enough supply. It’s because there is a shortage of truck drivers able to deliver it.

This dearth of drivers isn’t exclusively a UK problem, it’s a global one, as the commercial trucking industry is struggling to recruit new workers for what is an extremely grueling job — long hours on the road, poor infrastructure to sleep or go to the bathroom.

“Being a truck driver is a really hard job,” said Dmitry Grozoubinski, director of the consultancy ExplainTrade. “It’s not hugely social. It’s not particularly high status. And in a lot of cases, it wasn’t supremely well paid.” The industry skews old, and many drivers are retiring, and though the UK is urging drivers with experience to come back, the often poor conditions and benefits are keeping people away. Add to that Covid-19 pandemic disruptions, which in the UK were particularly acute because the country suspended the testing process for truck drivers during lockdown.

The UK trucking industry is also dealing with something that exists nowhere else: Brexit. The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has exacerbated the crisis. Or more specifically, the version of Brexit pursued by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has.

There are some signs that the immediate fuel crisis may be waning soon, and the UK government has put soldiers on standby to haul fuel, as needed. Johnson’s government has proposed a plan to bring in 5,000 foreign truck drivers through short-term temporary visas in an attempt to make up the shortfall. But that might not be enough to fill labor gaps the UK is experiencing, and Brexit — and the ideas behind Brexit — may make it harder to find long-term fixes.”

“Pay for truck drivers isn’t always commensurate with the demanding nature of the work. The job became less appealing to Brits, and so like a lot of industries, companies sought to fill their ranks with workers from elsewhere. Wealthier countries in the EU have often relied on workers from poorer EU member states, and those workers could drive a truck in the UK or Germany and take home way more money than they’d be able to earn in, say, Poland.”

“the Brexit deal negotiated with the EU created more friction between the two partners. That, too, was a deliberate choice, and has added a layer of red tape to the trading relationship. It may make it less attractive to be a trucker in the UK than in the EU and more difficult for EU truckers to make up some of the shortfall the UK is experiencing. “What Brexit has meant is that the UK no longer enjoys the way that the EU pooled resources and moved stuff around in order to take the edge off those problems,” Grozoubinski said.”

“It has also been difficult to untangle the current rules from the anti-immigration sentiment that accompanied Brexit. People may not want to come to work in the UK where there is a sense they aren’t as welcome or won’t be able to settle in the UK. That unease may have prompted some truck drivers to leave.

But, according to Elizabeth de Jong, the policy director at Logistics UK, the pandemic just made everything worse, as people may have just gone back to their home countries during the lockdowns. “The thing that has changed because of the EU exit is that we would normally be able to just bring them back, and you can’t just bring them back or recruit more from the EU,” de Jong said. “We haven’t got that option anymore.””

The great book shortage of 2021, explained

“Right now, distribution networks across the world are massively congested.

“Los Angeles — which is a major port of entry for the United States — New York, and New Jersey are all pretty full up,” says O’Leary. “We’re hearing reports of delays of weeks for getting things cleared.”

“Containers are not moving out of ports and onto trains quickly enough,” explains Chris Tang, a UCLA business professor specializing in global supply chain management. “And on top of that, all of the warehouses in the Midwest are full. So everything is stuck.”

An increase in online shipping in part of what’s driving the congestion. Meanwhile, the complications of Brexit and the internet’s beloved container ship Ever Given — both of which dramatically disrupted global supply chains — certainly aren’t helping ports empty themselves out faster.

Even more pressing, however, is a shortage of truck drivers. There just aren’t enough trucks on the road to pick up as much stuff as we’re currently shipping around the world. “We’re talking tens of thousands fewer truck drivers than we need,” says O’Leary.

And as stuff sits in warehouses, waiting to be picked up by increasingly scarce truck drivers, the price of storage goes up, adding to overall shipping costs. “It used to be around $3,000 per container,” Tang says. “Now the price is closer to $20,000.” The skyrocketing costs mean that companies selling luxury goods will take more warehouse slots, since they can afford them, while lower-priced goods, like books, compete for what’s left.

Barnes & Noble CEO Daunt notes that books do have one big advantage over other goods when it comes to shipping: They’re durable. “The reality is that books are fantastic because they don’t really perish, so you’re able to print lots of them in advance,” he says. “They’re incredibly robust, so you can send them through the most basic of supply chain routes. They’re not strawberries or peaches or delicate things.”

But right now, even the most basic of supply chain routes are finding themselves overwhelmed.”

“One of the big underlying problems when it comes to printing and shipping books is the same labor shortage that’s currently roiling the rest of the country. There aren’t enough press operators to get books printed, and then there aren’t enough truck drivers to get them to bookstores. Wages have gone up, but there still aren’t enough people working.

“In the whole national workforce, you’ve got 8.4 million unemployed but 10.9 million open jobs,” says Baehr. “That’s a two and a half million-person shortage, period, and that’s across all buckets. The book industry is getting hit with that just as much as the paper industry is getting hit with that just as much as the transportation industry is getting hit with that. It all just compounds on itself. It’s just a rough spot right now for the book business.”

“Simply put, the working-age population in the US has stopped growing,” says Gad Levanon, founder of the Labor Market Institute. “And the working-age population without a BA is shrinking quite rapidly.” That’s a major issue for the industries we’re discussing here because in general, people with college degrees prefer not to work in warehouses, as truck drivers, or in printing presses.”

Why the national stockpile wasn’t prepared for this pandemic

“One thing that happened is that after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic there were a lot of masks distributed to states and localities and they simply weren’t replenished. Then there was a plan to purchase thousands more ventilators. A contract was signed with a small medical equipment company in Southern California. That company was then bought by a different medical equipment company, and in the end the contract wasn’t fulfilled. The new ventilators never came in.
So there are these matters of prioritization and inattention that can affect whether in fact we have the supplies that have been recommended in the stockpile.”

“There’s a key period that a lot of people are now focusing on, which is late January to mid-February. This is a point at which we were already aware of what had happened in China, and the World Health Organization had declared Covid-19 a “global health emergency of international concern.”

That was really the time to consider whether we had the supplies we needed of these essential items and to figure out whether the stockpile needed to be replenished rapidly and do whatever it took to make sufficient supplies available — whether that meant purchasing supplies from other sources or even using the DPA to force manufacturers to shift to production of ventilators, for example.

So even if it had not been replenished prior to this administration, there was a chance to do a better job at the outset.”

I Don’t Have Coronavirus. It Might Kill Me Anyway.

“We were just about to leave for the two-hour drive to the hospital when the nurse called back. She said Duke University Hospital was now requiring the results of virus testing prior to admitting anyone for surgery. They didn’t have a test to give me; just a policy that required me to get one. I contacted my physician in Winston-Salem, but he said the hospital there was only testing patients who had been admitted with serious virus symptoms. Almost as quickly as it had been scheduled, the surgery was canceled.

I don’t know how long it will be before there are enough tests available that someone like me can get one. But unlike other people who might just be curious about whether they are infected or not, I have a clock ticking in my body. While I wait for the test, this cancer could metastasize. By the time they can perform the surgery, it might be a moot point.”

The US needs foreign doctors and nurses to fight coronavirus. Immigration policy isn’t helping.

“Right now, the biggest worry is whether the medical system has enough ventilators and protective equipment to treat patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
But another troubling shortage is on the horizon: doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel.

As patient demand continues to ramp up nationwide and more health care workers are unable to show up for work, either because they contract the virus or because they have to self-quarantine, doctor shortages are a real possibility”

“One solution is to make it easier to bring in doctors and nurses from abroad.”

“even before the current crisis, the immigration system made it difficult for foreign doctors and nurses to work in the US and go where they’re needed. Doctors may face long wait times for green cards, restrictions on where they can settle geographically, and limitations on where they can practice while they’re waiting for a green card. Nurses, meanwhile, also face long waits for green cards and can’t come to the US under temporary skilled worker visas.

The implications of a shortage would be devastating, both to overworked personnel and to the patients for whom receiving medical attention could be a life-or-death matter. But it’s a problem that more immigration could easily fix”

“Not only does the current system make it exceedingly difficult for doctors to stay in the US long-term, but it also severely restricts where in the US they can go.”

Millions of N95 masks keep surfacing. So why is there still a shortage?

“Certified N95 respirators are special. Unlike a conventional surgical mask, N95 masks are built so that 95 percent of very small airborne particles can’t get through. These masks also need to be approved by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and, depending on the type, the Food and Drug Administration. In order to fulfill those requirements, N95 masks must be constructed so that they seal tightly around one’s mouth and nose, unlike surgical or cloth masks which are loose-fitting.

The United States is now confronted with a shortage of N95 masks for a number of reasons. The masks themselves are difficult to make, in part because they require specialized equipment to meet stringent regulatory standards. Many of the companies that can make the masks are also in China. That supply chain wasn’t prepared for a pandemic, especially one that originated in the same country where many of these masks are produced. And as the novel coronavirus spread throughout China, the country’s government bought its domestically produced masks, ensuring they weren’t exported. That’s made the gap between supply and demand in the US much larger.

In the absence of a pandemic, the US has typically not produced enough of these N95 masks to meet the needs of its own workers. Prestige Ameritech and 3M are the two primary companies that do end-to-end production of medical-grade N95 masks in the US, and both are both ramping up production. Another American company, Honeywell, recently started producing N95 masks at its Rhode Island and Phoenix facilities. Still, these three companies won’t solve our mask shortage.”

U.S. Population Growth Rate Lowest in a Century, Says New Report

“”In the United States, fewer births and more deaths reduced population growth to a 100-year low,” reports a new study by demographers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). They add that “in nearly 46 percent of counties, more people died than were born last year.”
As I reported last year, the U.S. total fertility rate fell in 2018 to 1.73 births per woman, the lowest rate ever recorded. In general, the U.S. total fertility rate was been below replacement fertility—the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself, usually defined as 2.1 births per woman—since 1971.”

“Interestingly, the low—that is to say, negative—population growth in 1919 was largely the result of the decimation caused by the Spanish flu pandemic. Between July 1918 and July 1919, U.S. population actually dropped by 60,000 people.”