In the face of the administration’s claim, there is little it can do about inflation; I’ve pointed out how changes in energy and regulatory policy will change the price trajectory. We also have a labor shortage adding to the upward cost pressures. Only now we’re matching the number of employed before Covid. Yet, we are at a 3.6 unemployment rate, which means upward pressure on wages.
Coupled with lower birth rates, we are facing labor force problems. Baby boomer retirements, already shrinking the labor force, gained momentum during the pandemic. Higher transfer payments, commuting, and childcare costs keep others from returning to work. The result is a labor participation rate of just over 62%, down from over 66% at the turn of the century.
Its possible inflation may force more people to return to the workforce, but this is far from certain. We have to look to solutions that worked in the past. The United States led the world in welcoming legal immigrants, but lately, not so much. The Trump administration made sizable cuts in new legal arrivals. So far, The Biden administration has continued the reductions rather than expanded immigration.
The inability of both parties to confront our longstanding legal and illegal immigration problems provides little hope for relief from that direction. We forget that along with higher interest, lower taxes, and less regulation, Ronald Reagan signed the last major immigration reform. All these things combined to subdue our worst inflation until now. An increase in green cards would help, but nothing gets done. The present administration largely ignores the problem.
If we can’t increase the labor force, we must make our workers more productive. Historically machines have multiplied labor output. However, our progress on that front leaves much desired—the U.S. lags on machination. This lack is true even though there is plenty of investment capital. We aren’t matching our competitors.
While other advanced nations with slow-growing populations have replaced workers with robots, The U.S. isn’t among the leaders, lagging in seventh place:
What explains our reluctance to mechanize? Our ports are far less efficient than other major world ports. This failure has added to supply chain disruption. The slow pace, in turn, added to our current inflation.Continue reading