U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles will operate around the clock, and the country's largest retail and shipping companies also will expand working hours to help relieve supply chain bottlenecks.
Both the ports of Los Angeles and nearby Long Beach have experienced congestion since last year, due to increasing demand, labor shortages and COVID-19-related disruptions. The delays and shortages have contributed to higher inflation.
"By staying open 24/7, the Port of Los Angeles will be open over 60 extra hours a week," said Biden. "By increasing the number of late-night hours of operation — and opening up for less-crowded hours when goods can move faster — today's announcement has the potential to be a game-changer," he said.
The White House also announced that Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, The Home Depot and Target will unload during off-peak hours so that the port can operate around the clock. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union also announced its members will work extra shifts.
The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach together handle 40 percent of the shipping containers imported into the U.S., according to the White House. The two ports, among the busiest in the U.S., serve as a primary source of goods from Asia, such as toys, appliances, bicycles and furniture.
The logjams at the Southern California ports have been worsening. As of Tuesday, there were 64 ships berthed at the two ports and 80 waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
The wait time for those vessels to get into port can be five days, and it may take 10 more days for a container to be loaded on a truck or train.
Sales of durable goods jumped amid worker shortages and transportation hub slowdowns. A shortage of warehouse workers and truck drivers to pick up goods is partly to blame.
The logjam at U.S. ports prompted the National Retail Federation to call on the White House to address the issue. The group said the congestion has caused "significant challenges", including inventory shortages, and increasing transportation and warehousing costs.
The Port of Long Beach has been operating 24 hours daily for seven days a week since mid-September.
Biden said that traditionally, the U.S. ports operate only on weekdays and close in the evening and on weekends.
Experts said the supply chain crisis and the product shortages are fueling higher inflation. A recent analysis by the investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that "supply-constrained goods" account for 80 percent of this year's inflation overshoot".
On Wednesday, the Labor Department announced that the Consumer Price Index jumped 5.4 percent in September compared with the prior year.
"Prices are really volatile right now, undoubtedly reflecting supply chain demand volatility," said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.
"The U.S. economy is in a very fragile and unprecedented place: Prices are rising, trade in goods and services has slowed," said Stevenson, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under former president Barack Obama.
She said the consumers can help the economy by "choosing not to panic buy" and "switching to more available and lower-priced goods".
Some Republican lawmakers said the higher prices were fueled by Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. But the administration and the Federal Reserve have maintained that higher inflation is transitory.
Matthew Sherwood, global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit based in London, told the Los Angeles Times that the White House's actions are "fairly limited".
"I think the administration is doing what it can, but the reality is there's not that much it can do beyond what they're announcing," he said.