Cause and Effect and Truckers
Cause and Effect during the Pandemic
By Deborah Lambert
Facts are facts: This year, America needs 80,000 truck drivers, according to Christopher Spears, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association. The primary reason is timing. Younger drivers are the key, but finding them is the problem, since the association estimates that 105,000 new drivers are needed by 2023.
The shortage of drivers is understandable. After all, the nationwide chaos caused by the pandemic has inspired millions of working Americans to succumb to the lure of government benefits, such as child tax credits and unemployment insurance. However, The Daily Caller reported that Bruce Busada, who heads up a truck driver training school, reported that new drivers can easily bring in 60K during their first year, nearly 30 percent more than the median driver’s wage in May, 2020.
Meanwhile, as everyone knows by now, keeping up the abandonment of old habits can become an impossible dream, especially during the life-changing situations brought on by a pandemic.
Case in point: Cigarette sales rose for the first time in 20 years last year, leading some to conclude that "pandemic-related stress spurred an uptick in smoking," according to Big Media reports released by the Federal Trade Commission.
The largest U.S. cigarette producers sold "an estimated 203.7 billion cigarettes to wholesalers and retailers in 2020, representing an increase of about 800 million over 2019," according to the Washington Post, while The Journal reported a 2019-to-2020 increase at 0.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Altria Group CEO Billy Gifford told investors in the Marlboro group that "fewer social engagements allow for more tobacco-use occasions," said the Post.
Not surprisingly, Erika Sward of the American Lung Association, who also called the new FTC data "very troubling," attributed the increase in sales to the pandemic, considering the effect that stress has on smokers, past and present.
Tobacco executives also believe stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits could have played into the rise, as well, as the fact that "lower-income smokers have been able to buy in bulk when they go to the store," writes the Post. And that's without mentioning the influence that “bans on flavored vaping and increased e-cigarette taxes may have had on pushing smokers back toward traditional cigarettes,” notes the Journal.
However, it’s unclear if the uptick occurred as a result of new smokers, relapses, or increased intake among existing smokers. One analyst told the Post it is "too soon to tell whether the same trend continue into 2021."
However, in the trucking universe, age is another factor in the current situation. The average age of a truck driver is 55. Only 20 percent of them are under 45. However, Busada also noted that the industry hasn’t done a good job of reaching out to other groups, such as women and younger people. “It’s not ‘Smokey the Bandit’ anymore,” explained Busada, who added that today’s trucks are really high tech vehicles.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has heightened the problem in Maryland, a state that relies heavily on truckers. In fact, WJZ in Baltimore recently noted that although scores of container ships are stalled outside the ports of LA, 93 percent of MD communities need truckers, due to congestion at other ports.
Also, cigarette sales in Maryland – and throughout the country – increased for the first time in 20 years. As the seriousness of the situation increased, everyone started looking for a way to get through it, no matter how long it lasted.
Deborah Lambert is Party Line editor and a Member of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee.