Earlier today, in an article on developing economic conditions, I noted that orders for new heavy trucks had collapsed. I've also been discussing the future of the transport market in general with a few contacts in the industry. It's noteworthy that many companies relying on the trucking industry - e.g. truck stop owners and managers, suppliers of goods and services to the industry such as motel operators, etc. - are investing heavily in new technologies and diversifying their business, in the expectation that the trucking industry is undergoing a 'sea change' that will destroy anyone trying to cling to the old ways.
That 'sea change' is automation. Last year Medium reported:
According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.7 million trucking-related jobs.
We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.
Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink.
One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree. Truckers are essentially the last remnant of an increasingly impoverished population once gainfully employed in manufacturing before those middle income jobs were mostly all shipped overseas.
If we now step back and look at the big national picture, we are potentially looking at well over 10 million American workers and their families whose incomes depend entirely or at least partially on the incomes of truck drivers, all of whom markedly comprise what is left of the American middle class.
. . .
The only thing that could put a damper on this would be if the demand for truck drivers were to say... drive off a sharp cliff.
That cliff is the self-driving truck.
. . .
... it’s probably pretty safe to say driverless freeway travel is even closer to our future horizon of driverless transportation. How much closer? It has already happened.
On May 6, 2015, the first self-driving truck hit the American road in the state of Nevada.
Self-driving trucks are no longer the future. They are the present. They’re here.
There's much more at the link.
I've warned for some time that automation threatens many jobs currently held by humans. Truck drivers are now directly in the crosshairs of the automation trend. If you're in any industry dependent on the presence of human truck drivers . . . you might want to reconsider your options.
That's another aspect to the current economic crisis. Many of those who've lost their jobs can't go back to them even if they wanted to, because automation is changing the nature of those jobs and they haven't developed their skills to keep pace with technological change. That's going to become even more so in future.
Food for thought.