At this point, the term COVID-19 has reached the level of being a curse word. Many have lost their jobs, lives are being lost, and many financial experts believe that another recession is on the horizon. But perhaps the most catastrophic dilemma of all; people are losing their ever-loving minds about what they are going to wipe their butts with. So this bring a question to mind…
Is truck driving a recession-proof job?
I Googled the term “recession-proof jobs” recently and the top result was an article called “Top 27 Recession-Proof Jobs & Careers – Do They Exist?” Surely this list would include truckers along with the obvious health care workers, law police officers, and morticians, right? Wrong! Believe it or not, the closest they got was with the #27-ranked Public Transit Workers, which to be fair, does include some Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holders. But still, bus drivers are a tiny portion of what constitutes truck drivers at large.
Even more flabbergasting was that this article listed Grocers at #21. Yes, grocers are important and recession-proof, but HELLOOOOOOOO… McFLYYYYYY, you can’t keep a grocery store stocked without truck drivers bringing the freight! You’d think that would’ve been made abundantly clear when even normal, non-prepper types started hoarding everything from soup, to dairy products, to frozen goods, to paper products, to cleaning supplies.
Perhaps I’m overreacting though? I thought, “Maybe this is just an old article?” Nope. It was written in March 2020; smack dab in the middle of what I’m sure will be eventually be written up in the history books as The Great TP Shortage of 2020. Like I said earlier, that’s flabbergasting considering that with all those empty shelves came a newly-found appreciation for the truckers of the world.
For the record, I shot off a stern email to this website, scolding them for their oversight. Hopefully they’ll either add Truck Drivers to their list or replace it with one of the other recession-proof jobs like #21 Librarian. Seriously… librarian? Ugh. To be fair, the rest of this list is spot-on. I just found it a farce that truck drivers were left off the list. Rant over.
So we’re back to the question; Is truck driving a recession-proof job?
A lot can be learned from history; which, by the way is something that should be considered by anyone who thinks America can make Socialism work where other countries have failed; e.g. Russia, Cuba, or Venezuela, just to name a few. But I suppose if you’d like to see which jobs are truly recession-proof, by all means proceed with your Socialism madness.
The most recent recession in the United States started in December 2007. The Great Recession, as it is now known, was primarily caused by greedy finance companies who would give home loans to people who couldn’t afford them. Much like a giant teenage zit, the economy expanded until one day it just popped, leaving a gooey mess of yuckiness.
I remember it well, because for us it seemed to happen overnight. At that time, The Evil Overlord (my wife and ex-codriver) was in an orientation class at a trucking company. For those who don’t know the story from reading Trucking Life: An Entertaining, Yet Informative Guide To Becoming And Being A Truck Driver, she was getting back into trucking after a few years off in an effort to get me off the road and out of trucking for good.
Obviously that never happened and part of that can be blamed on The Great Recession. The event I speak of happened on a Friday, which was the last day of her orientation. I had been solo trucking for the past few years and was eagerly on my way to the terminal to pick her up so we could go back to team trucking. That’s when her orientation leader walked in and said the company had initiated a company-wide hiring freeze. They promptly put everyone on a bus back to their homes. Well, everyone except her.
The Evil Overlord only escaped the axe after reminding them she was going to be teaming with me and I was due to arrive that evening. Long story short, our miles SUCKED for the next 1.5 years. When we had worked as a team for this carrier previously, we had regularly gotten between 5,000-6,000 miles. Fast forward to The Great Recession, where now we were lucky to get 3,000 miles between the two of us. 2,500 wasn’t all that uncommon either. In context for you non-truckers, 3,000 miles is a number most of us solo drivers can easily attain if our dispatcher is willing and able to give us that many miles.
Trucking freight is in constant flux
Freight goes up and down all the time in the trucking industry. Sure, there are good times and bad times; but the point I’m trying to make is that there is always freight. Maybe not a lot of certain types of freight, but there is always some. Take The Great Recession as an example.
As I mentioned earlier, that recession started primarily due to the real estate industry. Once all those homeowners lost their homes, the market was flooded with houses that needed to be sold. We’re back to the law of supply and demand now. When there is a large supply of something, the price goes down. And since many of these homes were foreclosed on, the prices on these abundant houses went waaaaaaay down.
So why would anyone want to build or buy a brand-new house when they could get a slightly-used one for peanuts? They wouldn’t; which is why the construction industry came to a screeching halt. Truckers who hauled construction materials and equipment suddenly had less freight to deliver.
So that means that trucking jobs are NOT recession-proof, right?
Not so fast, Speedy Gonzales. One thing that drives The Evil Overlord nuts about me is how I nitpick over words. The group of guys that I work with at my LTL (Less-Than-Load) company also immediately honed in on this little annoyance when I started there 13 months ago.
For instance, one of my co-workers might say on the phone, “Man! That 4-wheeler literally ran me into the ditch!” Before I can stop myself, I’d often say, “Don’t you mean figuratively? You wouldn’t still be tooling down the road right now if you were literally put in the ditch.”
Or The Evil Overlord got in the habit of saying “my bedroom” when she meant “our bedroom (understandable since I was usually on the road).” She does quickly correct herself now, but only after pointing out the fact that if I didn’t rein in this annoying little quirk of mine, I would soon both alienate all my new co-workers and find myself eating a knuckle sandwich with a big diamond ring on it. But I admit I still have to bite my tongue on a regular basis.
Now let’s relate this back to trucking. Here’s the notion I’m going to put forth:
Truck driving is recession-proof, but all trucking jobs are not
Do you see the subtly there? Much like the construction industry during The Great Recession, my current job is suffering from the same lack of need. The LTL company I work for hauls a lot of B2B (Business-to-Business) freight, meaning that we deliver a lot of products to keep businesses running.
For example, we don’t haul the toilet paper or frozen pizza to the grocery store, but we do haul the shelving units and freezers where those products are displayed. And we don’t haul the widgets a factory makes; we haul the machines that make those widgets.
We all know there is an unprecedented number of businesses closed right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic. With so many businesses closed, there is no one to produce the widgets. Sure, the factories that produce essential products such as food, fuel, and cleaning/medical supplies are still going full-bore, but again, that’s only a small portion of the supplies we would normally deliver.
So while the trucking industry in general is considered an “essential” service, the trucking job that I have has had to cut back on staff. Much to my chagrin, one of those folks was me. I reported in the last podcast, TD143: Coronavirus Trucking, that I had just missed the first round of layoffs. Well, two weeks later they got me too. So now, for the first time in my life I’m unemployed. So there; it’s definitive. Truck driving is not recession-proof! Wait! Not true!
Truck driving is recession-proof
Let the word nitpicking begin! I stand by my statement: some trucking jobs are not recession-proof (like mine), but truck driving as a profession is! I actually knew this long before the whole Corona crisis, but it got cemented in my mind once I started working here.
If you read/listened to, TD136: The Emotions Of Changing Truck Driving Jobs, you’ll know that one of my biggest fears in taking this LTL job was the threat of layoffs. In my previous 22 years of being a trucker, the term “layoff” had never even crossed my mind. But my new co-workers put my mind at ease since most all of them had been through it when they were low on the seniority list.
Every one of them knew at least one or two other trucking companies that would hire me immediately, even knowing it was only temporary until I got called back. So that was a major load off my mind. Anyway, back to the point.
Back in 2008, when the economy got so bad for a couple of years, The Evil Overlord and I continued to drive truck. Granted, we had lower miles than we would have liked, but we continued to have a job. There were a few layoffs within the OTR (Over-the-Road) trucking companies, but for the most part everyone kept their jobs, their families insured, and enough money coming in to survive. And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it; weathering the storm until things get back to normal?
But just like is happening now, the LTL industry back then was being slammed way harder than the OTR companies. There were layoffs galore; and these weren’t short layoffs either. These were 12-18 month or longer layoffs. This is what my co-workers had gone through and they managed to come out the other end. As one of the guys said, “I’ve never missed a meal due to a layoff.”
But here’s the beauty of being a truck driver during a recession
Just because I’m laid off right now because my LTL carrier doesn’t haul enough “essential” products to keep me employed, that doesn’t mean I’m worried about my livelihood. You see, being laid off means that I can go find other work until my employer calls me back, just like my co-workers did back in 2008. That means I can keep working. Maybe not in the LTL industry, but I can keep on trucking.
All I would have to do is switch the type of carrier that I drive for; one that hauls more essential products. And the great news is that there is always someone hiring in the trucking industry. Always! This was true back in The Great Recession of 2008 and it’s true now during The Great TP Shortage of 2020. So in the end, I stand by my statement:
Truck driving is recession-proof, but all trucking jobs are not
Truth be told; I’d love to be working right now. I was actually enjoying that short little crappy Kansas City bid for the two weeks I was forced to do it. The money was still as good as my best year as an OTR driver, but it was a nice change of pace being back home in my own bed every day before I had to take my stupid 30-minute break.
I’m not thrilled about being laid off, but it’s better than the option of not being laid off and staying home without any loads most of the week where I’m not making any money (which is happening to some of our drivers). Being laid off means that I have the option to go get another trucking job if I want. With my 23 years of experience, I could be starting another job Monday morning if I so choose. But I don’t.
As I was crawling into bed after a long day of video gaming the other day, I told The Evil Overlord, “Man, that felt like a useless day,” to which she responded, “You haven’t taken any vacation time in 15 years (a true statement). Go sit on the couch, relax, and play video games for a change of pace. I’m making chocolate chip cookies.” Gratefully, I’m able to do that thanks to the combination of our savings account, my health care provider extending coverage for eight weeks, the $2400 stimulus check, and the $600 extra unemployment money provided by the CARES Act.
Hopefully things will get back to normal before the health insurance gives out and I have to start looking for a fill-in job until I get called back to work.
For now, you can still expect a new Trucker Dump podcast/blog every month. Jut don’t expect the release frequency to increase. I will be spending some of my extra time fixing my website and exploring some other trucking-related projects instead of needlessly raising your expectations of me. But for the most part I’m just going to do what I do best … obey The Evil Overlord.