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How America’s Great Economic Challenge Suddenly Turned 180 Degrees

  • April 11, 2021

At Bibb Distributing Co., a distributor of Anheuser-Busch and other beers in Macon, Ga., delivery drivers are sufficiently hard to find — and demand for the product sufficiently strong — that drivers have been asked to put in overtime and managers deployed on trucks, said Win Stewart, the chief executive.

“When I talk to other people in the market, trying to figure out whether it’s something we’re doing or if others are experiencing the same thing, all of my conversations are the same,” Mr. Stewart said. “We can’t find people.”

That could make things challenging if the summer goes the way many expect, with a wider reopening of the economy as most people are vaccinated. The 85-person company already has 10 to 12 openings, and drivers routinely are offered signing bonuses to move elsewhere.

“I feel like there’s going to be a surge in demand, as they open up concert venues and resorts,” Mr. Stewart said. “You’re going to see strong demand, and I’m not sure you’ll have the labor pool to service it.”

There are varying theories for the disconnect between the data that point to a weak labor market and anecdotal reports of a strong one.

It may be that many would-be workers are unable or unwilling to take jobs so long as they see health risks from coronavirus, or they are spending their time caring for children or for older or disabled family members. Jed Kolko, chief economist of Indeed and an Upshot contributor, has calculated that the percentage of women 25 to 54 who are working has declined by 4.5 percentage points among mothers, compared with 3.4 percentage points among those without children.

That would imply that efforts to get schools, day care centers and nursing homes back to full capacity will have important positive effects on the economy’s supply potential — part of the Biden administration’s rationale for emphasizing spending on those areas in its pandemic rescue plan.

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