Since July 2021, job openings in the U.S. have reached a historic high, clocking in at over 10 million per month.. Competition for employees is also higher than ever before, with nearly two job openings per unemployed American. This has led to labor shortages that have triggered a myriad of tangible effects on American daily life, including inflation and widespread delays in receiving products and services.

As the first installment in a series on labor shortages–specifically, how immigration can be part of a powerful solution–this piece will explore the most visible repercussions of our current predicament on Americans’ everyday lives. 

Shopping

  • Labor shortages in warehouses and manufacturing plants have increased the likelihood that Americans’ favorite items to buy online are now out of stock.
    • Before the pandemic, online shoppers encountered an out-of-stock item once every 200 pages. By early 2022, that number had jumped 235 percent to once every 59 pages.
  • Before the pandemic, Amazon Prime members were increasingly accustomed to a one-day delivery standard. Now, with far fewer warehouse workers and delivery drivers, this convenience is becoming less tenable.. 
  • Employee shortages have hit grocery stores particularly hard.
    • Harris Teeter, a South Atlantic supermarket chain, shortened operating hours at nearly all 250+ stores from January 5, 2022 to June 15, 2022 in order to compensate for the employee shortage.
    • While typically, a grocery store may have 5-10 percent of its items out of stock at any given time, in early 2022, that figure hovered at 15 percent. So, in addition to rising prices, American families face empty shelves and increased difficulty finding the foods they usually buy.
  • Moreover, worker shortages have forced some CVS and Walgreens stores to close on weekends or implement lunchtime closures. These changes could particularly harm working-class Americans who need to pick up medication yet cannot miss work to do so. 

Shipping

  • A shortfall of USPS workers has led to delays throughout the mail system, affecting individuals both sending and receiving mail.
    • In 2019, consumers were advised to send their first-class mail by December 20th or priority mail by the 21st for expected delivery by Christmas Day. In 2021, those dates were pushed to December 17th and 19th, respectively, cutting off three days of holiday shopping time.
    • USPS had once operated on a service standard of 1-3 days for first-class mail with about a 92 percent on-time delivery rate. However, in 2021 and 2022, timelines were downgraded to 1-5 days without improvement to the on-time delivery rate. 
  • Packages to be delivered by FedEx also incur additional delays due to staffing shortages.

Traveling

  • Travelers are experiencing increased flight delays and cancellations due to shortages of pilots and other airline and airport staff.
    • Comparing the latest data from January through July 2022 to the same period five years ago, the rate of canceled flights has increased by 113 percent, and the number of delayed flights has grown by 25 percent. 
  • Wait times for returning international travelers have also increased.
    • For example, the average Customs and Border Protection wait time for an American citizen entering the U.S. through the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in September 2022 was 77 percent longer than in September 2019; at Dallas-Fort Worth, nearly 85 percent longer. 
  • Many elderly and disabled travelers are facing additional delays that impede their movement both within the airport and while boarding or disembarking from planes due to a shortage of wheelchair attendants.
  • In 2021, nearly 2 million bags traveling on domestic flights were mishandled, lost, or delayed. While the data has not yet been released, news outlets have repeatedly highlighted how summer travel overwhelmed luggage handlers and led to thousands of suitcases piling up at airports worldwide in 2022. 
  • Train travel has also been significantly hampered by shortages. Amtrak has suspended service in several cities and delayed opening new routes due to its inability to find and maintain sufficient labor. 
  • Drivers in New Jersey and Oregon may have to start pumping their own gas as lawmakers weigh the possibility of lifting self-service bans due to a shortage of gas station attendants. 
  • Drivers needing a mechanic are also facing higher prices and longer wait times, thanks to shortages in the repair technician field. 
  • Americans traveling by public transit are not immune to the effects of labor shortages either.

Dining

  • The restaurant industry is 1 million employees short compared to pre-pandemic. With 2 out of every 3 restaurants without the staff they need, the wait for an available table, for food, and  cleaning is often longer than usual. 
  • Sixty percent of restaurants have reduced hours of operation, and 38 percent have decided to close on a day they normally would have been open. 
  • Ninety-one percent of restaurants have increased menu prices due to higher costs in the supply chain, including higher labor costs as restaurants compete over employees.
  • Customer satisfaction at restaurants has decreased sharply as short-staffed restaurants deliver less accurate orders with increased wait times. 
  • Diners ordering delivery are waiting longer for their food as restaurants and delivery services struggle with sufficient labor, and restaurants like Pizza Hut have shortened their delivery hours.

Going to the doctor

  • Emergency room patients countrywide experience wait times of 10, 12, or even 16 hours as hospitals lack the nurses and medical staff required to meet demand. 
  • In some instances, patients are being turned away completely.
  • According to a survey in 15 major metropolitan areas and across four medical specialties, wait times for a new patient appointment reached a new high of 26 days in 2022
  • Some doctors’ offices have even been forced to reduce hours or close due to labor shortages.
    • For example, in early 2022, a primary care provider in Oregon and Idaho suspended weekend operations entirely and cut back on hours at all its urgent care clinics. 
    • In April 2022, a hospital in Wyoming announced that it would close its labor and delivery division because it did not have sufficient staff to maintain it. This likely forced pregnant mothers in that region to travel an hour and a half to the nearest hospital.
  • Even once patients obtain an appointment, they wait longer for test and radiology results due to labor shortages

The labor shortages currently facing the U.S. affect nearly every facet of American daily life, and they interrupt and delay Americans’ access to necessities, including food and healthcare. The United States needs to act now to alleviate these shortages before they get even worse. In the series that follows, we will explain how and why immigration needs to be a part of the solution.

Our work on how immigration can relieve U.S. labor shortages

Paper: The case for updating Schedule A

Webinar: How immigration can address American labor shortages and jumpstart economic growth

Shortfalls in the domestic labor supply and why immigrants should be part of the solution