THE TRUCKING INDUSTRY, the backbone of the U.S. economy, is carrying more weight than ever despite a critical shortage of drivers. And now this compression point is sending waves of pain through the supply chain from distributors and wholesalers to retailers and consumers in the form of fast-rising shipping costs. Even Amazon and its Prime members are feeling the pinch.
This predicament was a long time coming. An aging driver population that continues to dwindle owing to retirement—combined with a lack of younger workers coming into the industry—is a problem that has been festering for 15 years. The Great Recession and the years of recovery that followed largely masked the problem. But by 2012, with the U.S. economy strengthening, fissures began to show.