According to this NY Times article, the biggest single problem with supply chains in the US is a shortage of truckers. People throw around numbers like 80,000 for the shortfall in drivers. It's gotten so bad that trucking companies are actually raising wages, which has always been my test of whether workers are really in short supply; some of the companies the Times contacted say they have raised compensation by 20%.
But really long-haul trucking is a tough life, weeks at a time on the road, paying a decent but unspectacular wage of $75,000-$85,000 a year. Most long-haul truckers come from rural areas where there isn't much other work, and one of the trends driving the shortage is probably the emptying out of those areas as people move to growing cities. The bottom line is that people just don't want the work enough to do it.
There are possible solutions. In the long term, it will be self-driving trucks, but that seems to be one of those things that keeps being five years away. Allowing Mexican drivers to operate in the US came up back in the 1990s when NAFTA was being negotiated, but the wage disparity is so great that US truckers threatened a total shutdown and that idea was shelved. I wonder why more freight isn't being shipped by rail, especially stuff that arrives in ports and therefore can't be perishable.
At a deeper level, I wonder how this relates to the big picture question of how Americans feel about work. What happens if most people decide that long-haul trucking, and hundreds of other tough jobs, simply aren't worth it? Or is that attitude just a temporary effect of the pandemic, set to disappear in the next recession?
I wonder how big the disconnect is between the work that our economy needs and the work that people want to do. It strikes me as possible that the rich countries could face shortages of all kinds of workers, which will mean either accepting more immigrants, and thus more bad politics, or re-arranging the economy in as-yet unforeseen ways?
UPDATE: Kevin Drum says there is not shortage of drivers overall, just at the ports, which independent truckers are avoiding because of long waits for loads. This seems weird to me; I mean, if there is a shortage of trucks at the ports, shouldn't that make the wait time go down? The more I read about this, the less I understand.