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Last year the US economy suddenly ground into a halt. This year, things eventually picked up speed and started moving again, but only to get stuck in the biggest logjam ever recorded in our nation’s history. Our supply chains are suffering from extended disruptions and the severity of this crisis is already apparent to the naked eye. Consumers are witnessing empty shelves in major supermarkets all around the country. Car plants are being shut down due to a shortage of semiconductors. Ports remain extremely congested, and millions of containers are now stuck at cargo ships outside the coast of California that can wait up to a month for a berth to finally be able to dock.
The situation is so out of control that things have been similarly chaotic onshore, where hundreds of thousands of containers are being piled up after being unloaded from those massive ships. As one industry insider described, right now, the backlog of containers stretches “as far as the eye can see.” In one very revealing video recently posted on social media, a dockworker showed the gigantic piles of undelivered shipping containers sitting at a key US port, exposing the true extent of the supply chain crisis plaguing our nation.
Over the past year, numerous disruptions were recorded. Months ago, a key index for the industry found that shortages caused by supply chain bottlenecks jumped by over 400 percent from 2020 levels. A combination of several issues, including steep imbalances between supply and demand, a slowdown in global manufacturing, rising shipping and logistics costs, and severe worker shortages have all contributed to the worsening situation we’re seeing today.In the video released on TikTok, the supply chain worker who said to be in charge of “crane operations” used his smartphone to document the staggering amount of shipping containers stacked and awaiting distribution on the quayside.
The TikTok video uploaded on October 13 has already over 3.6. million views on the social media site. In the 30-second clip, you can also hear the worker complaining about the status quo. The user identified as Stanimal18 has 12 other videos documenting the shipping container industry. In one of them, he says that “one of the reasons everything is backed up is that our container yards are stuffed to the hilt with containers.”
Most US retailers did not anticipate the enormous growth in consumer demand, adds the executive director of the Port of Houston Roger Guenther. “When everybody was staying home and they were getting stimulus checks, they started buying. Since they weren’t going on vacation and going to restaurants and buying services, they started buying furniture and bicycles and home improvement goods,” he said. As they try to make up for the lost sales, some of them increase their orders by up to four times. However, the panic ordering retailers have been doing resulted in an even bigger backlog, and congestion is becoming so acute that shippers are transferring ships that arrive in California to other ports, such as the Port of Houston, New Jersey, or Savannah.
At this point, all available space in the port of Houston is occupied by immense towers of multicolored containers that can get stranded for weeks until trucks arrive to haul them to distribution centers. Even though there’s plenty of supply, millions of products remain trapped at ports and out of the reach of consumers due to lengthy delivery delays, which are causing shortages at a national and local level. As the holiday season approaches, Americans are already getting increasingly frustrated with the growing number of out-of-stock items as the crisis threatens to ruin Christmas. In October alone, online shoppers received nearly 2 billion out-of-stock messages — three times more than during the same period in 2019 — according to an Adobe Analytics study released Tuesday. The analysis tracked one trillion visits to US retail sites.
The undeniable interconnectedness of our supply chains used to be a sign of strength and resilience for the global economy. Right now, as each and every country faces its own struggles, our reliance on this global system threatens to plunge our economy into another recession — one much worse than what happened in 2020. This time, as the economy slumps, the price of everything skyrockets. And experts are warning that the worst is yet to come for the supply chain crisis, so buckle up and get ready for a bumpy ride.