The Shipping Industry and The Economy: Cyclical Cause and Effect

Nearly every industry has been affected by the economic pitfalls experienced in recent years—the housing market, retail sales, gas prices—and we’ve all felt the effects in our own wallets. Still, few fields have felt the pinch quite like the shipping industry.

All goods must be shipped from their manufacturer to retail establishments where consumers can lay their hands on them—and fork over the cash to purchase them. This need to move items from point A (where they’re produced) to point B (where they’re sold) puts shipping—whether by train, truck or boat—at the epicenter of our economy.

Supply and Demand

Put simply, the economy is a bit of a vicious cycle: Consumers have less money to spend, which means a lower demand for goods. Fewer goods are produced, which in turn results in less demand on the shipping industry. The lower demand means fewer jobs for those who manufacture and ship products, which means those workers have less cash to put back into the economy—and that perpetuates the cycle.

Economical Low Points

Small, independently owned trucking companies and large corporate fleets alike have felt the pinch of the economy. The amount of merchandise moved by the for-hire transportation industry hit an all-time low in April 2009, and employment of truck drivers hit a record low in March 2010.

On the upswing

Today, the statistics are a bit more promising. The U.S. economy seems to be recovering at a faster rate than was originally predicted, and jobs in the shipping industry are starting to reflect that change. Overall freight shipments rose 2.7 percent between May 2012 and the same month in 2013, and year-to-date shipments are 1.7 percent higher this year than last. This means, too, that more trucking companies are incorporating better technology like electronic fleet tracking systems and EOBRs to improve day-to-day operations and attract the best truckers in the business.

Truckers are also seeing an increase in job opportunities; employment in the industry as of July 2013 was up 11.8 percent from that afore-mentioned low point in March 2010. However, 3,500 payroll trucking jobs were cut in June 2013, so obviously the trucking world has yet to fully recover from the swings of the recession.


Of course, much of the upswing is thanks to a generally positive momentum in the overall economy. The housing industry is beginning its own long and slow recovery, which means greater demand for building materials and related items to be shipped to construction sites. Consumers are beginning to cautiously spend money on more items again, which again results in a larger demand on truckers to transport goods. These factors all contribute to the overall improvement in the for-hire trucking industry.

History has shown that the economy will never bounce back from a large event like the recent recession overnight. Time and patience are required on everyone’s part to get the economy back to where it once was. In the meantime, the shipping industry is playing a large part in helping any number of other types of businesses to make their way back to steady financial ground.

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