Federal Reserve Sees Widespread Supply-Chain Disruptions, Labor Shortages, and Rising Prices

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chairman Powell announced that the Federal Reserve will not be adjusting interest rates. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The U.S. economy grew at a somewhat faster pace in April and May despite widespread shortages of labor and materials that left many businesses struggling to keep up with demand, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

In the Fed’s latest survey of economic conditions around the nation, several of the central bank’s districts reported that businesses were choked by a lack of willing and available workers and supply-chain problems.

Manufacturers reported to officials at regional Fed banks that widespread shortages of materials and labor along with delivery delays made it difficult to get products to customer. Construction industry executives said they struggled to keep up with very high housing demand due to a lack of workers, in some places reducing sales.

Businesses said they found it difficult new workers, especially low-wage hourly workers, truck drivers, and skilled tradespeople, forcing them to reduce output and cut hours of operation. From Boston to San Francisco, the picture across the country was one of strong consumer demand, strong demand for labor from businesses running into a shortage of workers and disrupted supply-chains.

All told, the latest Beige Book uses the word ‘shortage’ 53 times, up from 37 in the prior report.

The Fed’s report, known as the Beige Book, is based on surveys conducted by the Fed’s 12 regional banks from early April to late May. The information will form the basis of discussion when Fed policymakers meet on June 15-16 to decide the future course of interest rates.

Most analysts believe that, based on the comments of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and other Fed officials, the central bank will leave rates where they have been for the past year at a record low of 0 percent to 0.25 percent as the central bank continues to promote a strong rebound from the pandemic-triggered recession.

The latest report also repeatedly notes that businesses have been paying more for goods and services and having some success passing these costs on to consumers.

“Strengthening demand, however, allowed some businesses, particularly manufacturers, builders, and transportation companies, to pass through much of the cost increases to their customers,” the Beige Book notes. “Looking forward, contacts anticipate facing cost increases and charging higher prices in coming months.”

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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