Current State of the Trucking Industry in America

February 23, 2022 Updated: February 23, 2022


Every product in America travels on some type of truck. Trucking moves roughly 70 percent of all freight in the United States and nearly 80 percent of American consumers depend on trucking for the delivery of everyday items and commodities, and specialty items like medicines, fuels, and raw materials. Industries like construction, healthcare, and mining would fail to operate if we lost truckers, and so would our American daily life. There would be no cash for ATM machines and no fuel for airplanes and automobiles; garbage and medical waste would pile up and there would be a lack of food and water in a matter of days.

America runs on trucking. Intermodal containers (the type of containers you see at ports and on the back of trucks) are transported coast to coast across America; delivered from ports around the world to ports in America and taken by trucks to warehouses and distribution centers. Automobiles are transported by tractor-trailers and so are airplane engines and wind turbines. Less-than-truckload shipments, which are multiple customer shipments grouped together to create a full truckload, make up most of our urban deliveries.

America’s online shopping and instant delivery habits are not slowing down anytime soon. According to 2019 numbers, the trucking industry hauled 72.5 percent of all freight transported in the United States, equalling almost 12 billion tons. I can only imagine that this statistic will increase from demand in 2021 and 2022. The trucking industry is the glue that holds the American economy together, yet the job of a truck driver is clearly undervalued.

As an investor and entrepreneur, I’m involved in a lot of different business enterprises, including an import and export company. In this enterprise, we exclusively import from Europe to the port of Savannah or the port of Charleston, and we rely heavily on trucking. The truck drivers we contract with pick up our containers and take them to our warehouse or our affiliates’ warehouses; without the truck drivers there would be no other option apart from hiring our own drivers and buying our own trucks. Fortunately, enough individuals with businesses like mine have many options to choose from, but that in itself is a problem. The truck drivers, who transport valuable commodities, have become commodities themselves. Transport by truck has become heavily commoditized. When a service becomes commoditized decisions are usually made based on price alone.

The recent events in Canada have brought such issues to the forefront and it seems as if North America’s trucking industry is suffering from a universal lack of compassion for truckers. The issue is, trucking is vitally important not only to the United States economy but also to Mexico and Canada.

Epoch Times Photo
Average truck driver pay per state 2021. (Chadwick Hagan)

While I am generally supportive of deregulation, it seems the deregulation of the trucking industry has created serious discombobulations inside trucking economics and the trucking workplace. Decades after deregulation it is apparent that the victim here is the truck driver. They must work longer hours for less pay. Most long-haul truckers are paid on a per-mile basis and often cannot qualify for overtime, thus earning far less than in the 1970s. It continues to worsen. In 2020 a truck driver worked a median of 60 hours, in 2010 the median driver worked 75 hours. Over the years truck drivers have seen reduced benefits, reduced hours, and reduced pay. From 1935 to 1980, trucking in America was publicly regulated. The government set freight rates and limited competition, much like a public utility. At the time a truck driver was well paid, in 1975 truckers often made around $35,000.00, not including benefits. That money in today’s amount equals roughly $182,000.00 (give or take a few thousand dollars).

The industry changed when trucking was deregulated through the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 (pdf) by President Jimmy Carter. Rachel Premach from Business Insider in July 2020 wrote: “Deregulating trucking created significant cost savings for America’s emerging class of retail mega-chains. Truckload shipment rates fell by 25%, adjusted for inflation, from 1977 to 1982. Logistics—half of which are trucking costs—used to account for 16% of the USA’s annual expenditure. Even though we’re shipping more goods than ever, it’s now under 8%.”

Confusion in the supply chain remains persistent. America has had a massive supply chain issue from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have been told by the media that many of the problems are caused by a shortage of truck drivers. This could not be further from the truth. There is no truck driver shortage—there is a truck driver retention debacle.

As Time Magazine reported on Nov. 12, 2021, the loss in trucker retention has been created by the “poor conditions that sprung up in the industry in the wake of 1980s deregulation. Turnover for truck drivers in fleets with more than $30 million of annual revenue was 92% at the end of 2020, meaning roughly 9 out of every 10 drivers will no longer be working for that company in a year.”

The current issues did not occur overnight; it took a long time to get us here. Issues are likely to remain unless American states and leaders make moves to signify the importance of long-haul drivers, less-than-truckload drivers, delivery drivers, and really any truck driver employed in America. The health of our nation depends on it.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Chadwick Hagan is a financier, entrepreneur, author and columnist. He has managed businesses and investments in global markets for two decades. As an author and writer he covers economics, fine art and conservation. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and is based in Atlanta and London.