California Ports to Operate 24/7 in Effort to Ease Shipping Bottlenecks, Supply Shortages

The Port of Los Angeles is on its way to become a 24-7 operation, the White House said in Wednesday in an announcement of a new agreement to relieve supply chain bottlenecks and move stranded container ships increasing consumer prices in the U.S.

The supply chain issue is closely related to recent inflation, which is creating economic and political risks for elected officials. President Joe Biden is scheduled to outline an agreement in an afternoon speech about how supply chain issues have affected the nation's economic COVID-19 recovery.

As of Monday, 62 ships were berthed at the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, which make up 40 percent of all shipping containers in the U.S. More than 80 ships are still waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Port of LA
A record number of cargo ships are stuck floating and waiting off the southern California coast amid a supply chain crisis which could mean fewer gifts and toys for Christmas this year as a combination of growing volumes of cargo, COVID-19 related safety measures and a labor shortage slow the handling and processing of cargo from each ship. A U.S. flag flies near containers stacked high on a cargo ship at the Port of Los Angeles on September 28 in Los Angeles, California. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Commitments by the Los Angeles port's operator, longshoremen and several of the country's largest retail and shipping companies are expected to help relieve the backlog. Walmart, FedEx and UPS made commitments to unload during off-peak hours, making it easier for the Los Angeles port to operate nonstop and reduce the backlog. The Long Beach port has been operating 24 hours daily for seven days for roughly the past three weeks.

Biden was scheduled to hold a virtual roundtable with the heads of Walmart, FedEx Logistics, UPS, Target, Samsung Electronics North America, the Teamsters Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, before his speech.

Republican lawmakers said Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has fueled higher prices. A recent analysis issued by the investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that "supply-constrained goods" account for 80 percent of this year's inflation overshoot, yet the political criticism continues to sting as housing and oil prices add to inflationary pressures.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has made inflation one of his central charges against Biden, a sign that getting prices under control could be essential for Democrats trying to hold onto congressional seats in next year's elections.

"The Democrats' inflation is so bad that even though the average American worker has gotten a multiple-percentage-point pay raise over the last year, their actual purchasing power has been cut," McConnell said in a Senate speech last week. "Even dollar stores are having to raise their prices. Just ask any American family about their last few trips to the supermarket, the gas station or the toy store. Heaven forbid if they've had to participate in the housing market or the auto market anytime lately."

The Biden administration has argued that higher inflation is temporary. Yet the supply chain issues have persisted months after the economy began to reopen and recover as vaccines lessened many of the risks from the pandemic.

Consumer prices climbed 5.4 percent from a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. That is significantly above the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target. Higher energy, food and shelter costs were prime drivers of price increases in September. Used car and truck prices fell for the second straight month, but vehicle shortages and cost increases in prior months mean that prices are still 24.4 percent higher from a year ago.

Inflation's persistence has created a divide in how to describe the phenomenon.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said Tuesday that he no longer calls inflation "transitory" and expects this current "episode" of inflation could last into 2022 or longer. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the former Fed chair, insisted to CBS News that the higher prices are "transitory" because once "we get the pandemic under control, the global economy comes back, these pressures will mitigate and I believe will go back to normal levels."

LA Beaches
A beach goer sits on the beach in Seal Beach California on October 1 as container ships waiting to dock at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are seen in the distance. More than 80 ships are still waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo