From the device in your hand to the shirt on your back, the floor and walls around you, most everyday items have been, at one point or another, transported by truck. As the saying goes, if you bought it, a truck brought it. Rumbling across the nation at every moment and in every direction, the trucking industry is one of the most important links in the complex chain that is the American economy, responsible for approximately 70% of all domestic freight in 2017 and $700,000,000,000 in revenue.
With the nation’s railways packed during World War 1, inventive American military leaders developed an alternative— what came to be long haul trucking. The first trucks were made by Mack, still famous for their rugged vehicles, and White, then famous for sewing machines. Freightliner is now the nation’s top truck manufacturer, selling more than 190,000 annually.
After a developmental delay during World War 2, use of trucks for long haul shipping exploded in the late 50s and early 60s with the construction of the Interstate Highway System. The innovative country-connecting web of freeways was proposed in support of New Deal growth in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and signed into law after much debate by the 34th man to hold the same office, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Early trucking companies utilized the brand new highways to revolutionize domestic freight, shipping to and from the nation’s metropolitan centers with unprecedented speed and efficiency. The economy, especially big-box retail, benefited greatly from the mileage being logged by more than 18,000,000 trucks by 1970.
With it grew a sub-culture all its own, trucker culture. Seen as outlaws and cowboys, truckers earned an All-American reputation for being hardworking patriots, the trustworthy gears that keep the country moving on-time. Songs, movies, and television shows have glorified the profession. Truckers were, and still are, known to communicate via CB radio, enjoying a semi-private community filled with unique language adaptations, news, gossip, and long distance friendships akin to an early social network.
The industry, now, is much different than it’s been in the past. In 2015, 33,800,000 trucks were estimated to have been registered in the United States, having traveled more than 450,000,000,000 miles. About 3,500,000 drivers were employed in 2016 and moved more than 10,500,000,000 tons of freight. Growth in demand, though, is outpacing growth in supply. Delivery expectations are higher than they’ve ever been. Processing times have been slashed in response. Compounding the issue, qualified drivers have become scarce.
It is estimated that the American freight industry currently runs with a growing truck driver deficit of 50,000 or more, putting a strain on every level of logistics and making an impact on the receipts of end-consumers. The talent pool is evaporating as older generations pass through the workforce, even with lucrative demand for qualified drivers. Baby boomers, once the lifeblood of the trucking industry, are retiring at a much faster pace than they can be replaced. Younger generations have shown little interest in the lifestyle, shying away from the long hours and isolation. What’s more, threats of automation loom over the already stretched-thin workforce.
Experienced professionals are in extremely high demand all over the country, with high-paying roles ripe for the filling. Drivers and their employers now use new and alternate methods, like EB-3 work visas, to secure mutually beneficial employment. Visa Solutions facilitates this particular international hiring process, and others like it, for both qualified drivers and understaffed trucking companies.
Change is constant, but the American economy is resilient and adaptive. The trucking industry is far from gone. And, far from irrelevant, as demonstrated by its still-firm stranglehold on American freight.
- On July 3, 2019
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