Diesel Is Far From the Only Shortage U.S. Is Facing

Americans experienced the impact of labor and product shortages in earnest during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than two years later, shortages continue to arise and impact Americans.

Earlier this month, Americans learned there was less than a month of diesel supply left in storage. It is the lowest storage supply since 2008 and has led to skyrocketing prices as U.S. refineries struggle to keep up with demand.

But it doesn't stop there. Dozens of other sectors are struggling to meet demand––and the U.S. has experienced shortages ranging from employees to medications to parts needed for U.S. defense contractors' weapons.

Stacks of Land O Lakes Butter
Butter is displayed on shelves for sale at a grocery store. Lower milk production on U.S. farms and labor shortages at processing plants have helped to push butter prices up nearly 25 percent in the last year, outpacing increases in most other groceries. Americans might soon see a shortage of dairy products. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kaitlin Wowak, an associate professor of operations management at Notre Dame University, said there are reasons why Americans are hurting for certain items. In diesel's case, dwindling U.S. supplies are exacerbated by a ban on Russian imports. Wowak said the Russian-Ukraine war is impeding other sectors, too, as a slowed global supply chain is keeping suppliers from receiving materials in time.

Medication Shortages

Labor economist Oren Levin-Waldman said this could impact other shortages as well, such as medication shortages among Adderall and Amoxicillin.

China still implements a zero-COVID policy, leading to communities being locked down for weeks or months until the virus fades, which can cause a backlog of orders for certain materials and products.

"Things just don't get shipped over," Levin-Waldman said. "It creates a product shortage."

Food Shortages

Shortages are caused by national issues, too, such as logistics problems and trucking and air transport issues. For example, dairy production is down because of a labor shortage, which leads to a shortage of dairy products like butter just as the American holiday season is beginning to ramp up. Wowak said if products that have a short shelf life––like butter––are caught in transportation delays, suppliers might have to toss the items when they do arrive because of the expiration date.

In other cases, weather and outbreaks of avian flu have impacted the supply of potatoes and turkeys, respectively. Severe drought conditions also have decreased the supply of rice, winter wheat, tomatoes and olive oil, according to a recent report by Money Talks News.

Labor Shortages

Along with product shortages, certain industries have struggled to staff employees after the pandemic. Along with creating a crunch in those positions, workforce shortages can contribute to shortages in other areas.

"Getting people back in the workforce and having them go back to full-time positions is really hard. We have seen labor shortages across the board in a number of industries," Wowak told Newsweek. "When you're low on labor, sometimes production capacity decreases because you don't have people in all the stations, so that can contribute to supply shortage."

The most affected job sectors are those requiring employees to be present in person–– such as police officers, teachers, manufacturers and bus drivers. Labor economist Oren Levin-Waldman said as employees transitioned to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, they might hesitate against returning to the office for jobs that required them to be physically present. The increased ability to work remotely is driving a labor shortage in other sectors.

"Those people who discovered they enjoy working remotely, they don't want to go back to an office situation if they can avoid it," Levin-Waldman told Newsweek.

Will the Shortages End Soon?

Supply shortages could have a grim outlook. Levin-Waldman said midterm elections aren't likely to influence most shortages Americans are experiencing, as candidates are debating topics like inflation and economy but not so much the underlying issues contributing to those topics. Levin-Waldman said that one lesson politicians should have learned from the pandemic was sourcing industries in the U.S. to prevent global supply chain issues but that "nobody wants to discuss those issues."

"Nobody in the midterm right now is talking about these transformations [moving more operations to the U.S.] but those transformations are key to understanding some of the larger issues people are talking about with inflation, unemployment and general distrust in government," he said.