A Record Year for America’s Ports and a Look to the Year Ahead
This week’s edition of the White House’s Transportation Supply Chain Dashboard shows that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach officially moved more goods in 2021 than ever before. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach—which process 40 percent of the nation’s containerized imports—broke their 2018 record for annual containerized imports by 13 percent. Looking more broadly at our nation’s ports, the top four container ports in the country imported 18 percent more containers between January and November than over the same period last year. And the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continue to make progress toward restoring velocity, reducing the number of containers that have been sitting on the docks for 9 days or more by about 60 percent since the beginning of November.
The nation’s grocery and drug stores continue to have stocked shelves. The share of goods that are in stock is 89 percent—higher than it was last year and just two percentage points away from its pre-pandemic level. This is the same in-stock rate that prevailed in October and some modest declines are to be expected given the rapid spread of Omicron. As the California Grocers Association puts it: “There are some issues with out-of-stocks, but it tends to be a situation where if you go to a store on a Tuesday night, maybe something’s out of stock, but by Wednesday sometime it’s back in store.”
2021 Was A Record Year for the Nation’s Ports
2021 was a record year for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which moved more than 10 million import containers. This is a 14 percent increase over 2020 and a 13 percent increase over 2018, which held the previous record for imports at the two ports combined. While final year-end numbers are still not available for all of the top four container ports in the country (Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, and Savannah), they are also on track to beat their previous records, moving 18 percent more containers between January and November 2021 compared to January and November 2020. And smaller ports such as the Port of Virginia and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma moved 28 percent and 21 percent more containers respectively according to the latest data for each. The hard work of essential longshore, trucking, and warehouse workers enabled the country to move more goods last year than it ever has before.
The Biden Administration recognizes how critical expanding port capacity is to our nation’s economic competitiveness and strengthen of our supply chain. The Administration announced this week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is committing $4 billion through the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand capacity at key ports, allow passage of larger vessels, and further enhance the country’s ability to move goods. These waterside investments will compliment landside investments at our ports and across the goods movement chain such as the Port Infrastructure Development Grants announced in December. This is just the latest step the Administration is taking to implement its Port Action Plan.
The proposed fee on containers that sit on the docks for over eight days at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continues to play a key role in enhancing the fluidity of the ports and, after some reversal of progress from the holidays, has led to about a 60 percent reduction in the number of these long-dwelling containers sitting on the docks since November 1st. The ports have now moved to propose a similar fee on long-dwelling empty containers that sit on the docks waiting to be filled with exports or be sent directly back to Asia. These empty containers currently clog the docks, making it harder for trucks to maneuver and slowing the unloading of containers from ships.
Like all workplaces, ports and warehouses across the country have been affected by the rapid rise of Omicron cases and, as discussed in our last blog, this has reportedly led to slowdowns as workers test positive for COVID. As a result, the January container processing numbers that will be released in February may show a slowdown in container volume. We’ll continue to monitor these impacts, but it is important to remember that the leading ports in the U.S. never shut down even in the worst of spring 2020. Now they and our nation as a whole have a much better set of public health tools in place than we did then. Over 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, we have strong masking guidance in place, and we have significantly increased testing capacity including both tests themselves (including half a billion that are now available for order) and new testing sites.
Through our Early Alert System, the State Department and Commerce Department continue to closely monitor potential disruptions related to manufacturing and freight movement in key trading partners. In particular, the agencies are closely tracking reports of COVID related shutdowns and slowdowns in cities and factories in China, talking to industry contacts and other stakeholders about the extent of the disruptions and steps that can be taken to minimize their impact on global supply chains. While the magnitude of impact these disruptions could have on global supply chains remains unclear, air freight and port activities have slowed due to public health mitigation measures being taken and factories, including those producing semiconductors, will likely experience a slowdown in production due to the spread of the omicron variant. We continue to work with allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region to implement safety protocols that help limit the spread of the virus and minimize disruption to their people and global supply chains
Store Shelves Continue to Be Stocked
There have been wide spread media reports of empty shelves at grocery stores this January in the wake of Omicron. High frequency data from IRI measure the in-stock rate of goods at grocery and drug stores through the week ending January 16 and provide insight into how well the supply chain has been performing this month. The in-stock rate at the nation’s grocery and drug stores had been holding steady at 90 percent in December 2021 compared to 91 percent in February 2020 according to IRI, but dipped to 88 percent the week ending January 2. The in-stock rate recovered to 89 percent one week later (the week ending 1/9/2022) and held steady last week (the week ending 1/16/2022). The current 89 percent in-stock rate is a return to where it was at the end of October as noted in our first blog and is higher than it was one year ago (88 percent the week ending 1/25/2021).
The IRI data indicate that some of the biggest drops in on-the-shelf availability since before Christmas were baking products, refrigerated dough, frozen baked goods, and alcohol. The availability of fruits and vegetable, frozen meat, and frozen meal products has improved. Declines in the availability of dairy, baked good, and refrigerated meat products have been 2 percentage points or less. IRI also uses a rigorous definition of when one of the hundreds of thousand items it tracks is “out of stock” at a store. For example, IRI may count one brand’s 40 oz jar of smooth peanut butter as out of stock at a store even when that same brand’s 20 oz jar of smooth peanut butter, its 40 oz jar of crunchy peanut butter, or another brand’s 40 oz jar of smooth peanut butter are all in stock. In many cases, consumers can get a very similar product to the out-of-stock one.
While there is often variability in these data, one likely cause of these limited declines in on-the-shelf availability has been Omicron and its high transmissibility, which has introduced labor supply disruptions into several different industries as workers test positive for COVID. This includes grocery and drug store workers as well as truck drivers and workers at warehouses and processing facilities, all of which can lead to temporary disruptions to the supply chain. As with the ports, we are facing these disruptions with much better public health tools and a much stronger economy than in the spring of 2020.
Implementing the Trucking Action Plan
Truck drivers are vital for moving goods throughout our country, including moving goods from farm to grocery store, which is why the Departments of Transportation and Labor released their Trucking Action Plan to support drivers, improve retention, and expand access to quality driving jobs now and in the years ahead. In less than 30 days since the plan was announced, the Departments have managed to:
- Work with the more than 100 employers and industry partners that have stepped forward to work to expand Registered Apprenticeships in the last 30 days, which will put thousands of new skilled and safe drivers on the road in good trucking jobs trained using the proven ‘earn while you learn’ model.
- Launch the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot for truck drivers under 21 as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
- Create a new Women of Trucking Advisory Board to increase the number of women in trucking by reviewing and reporting on the current challenges facing woman drivers and those interested in joining the profession, such as barriers to entry, on-the-job safety risks, mentorship, quality training, and opportunities for advancement.
- Launch a new task force to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements with DOL and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to review leasing arrangements to identify actions that could make leases more equitable and transparent.
- Begin two studies to explore the issues of truck driver pay and unpaid detention time.
- Announce over $30 million in funding to help states expedite issuing commercial driver’s licenses and sent all 50 states a toolkit detailing specific actions they can take to expedite licensing and will work hand-in-hand with states to address challenges they are facing.
The Departments of Labor and Transportation continue to work together alongside industry partners, including engaging directly with drivers, to implement the 90-Day Trucking Action Plan and help develop a next generation trucking workforce.
One critical way the Administration is continuing to partner with industry is to work with them to expand apprenticeships, a proven recruitment and retention strategy. Interested employers and industry partner can learn more about the Administration’s 90-Day Trucking Apprenticeship Challenge and how they can join hundreds of employers across the U.S. who are using Registered Apprenticeships to build a skilled, safe and stronger trucking workforce today and for years to come.