If you don’t work in freight or logistics, you might not think much about how the everyday products we rely on get to the shelf. However, if you do work in the industry, you likely have an appreciation for the intricate dance between suppliers, manufacturers, carriers, and retailers that ensures we have everything we need to live, work, and play.
That said, it’s challenging to appreciate the full magnitude of the industry, the sheer volume of goods that get moved, and the impact on the global economy. Below, you’ll find 12 surprising statistics that reveal just how huge the freight and logistics industry really is, both in size and importance. (In fact, some of them might even surprise veterans of the industry!)
According to the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ 2020 State of Logistics Report, businesses in the U.S. spent $1.63 trillion on logistics costs in 2019.i
Exactly how big is this spending volume? That number represented 7.6% of the total 2019 U.S. GDP, which was $21.43 trillion.ii It’s also almost on par with the U.N.’s 2020 estimate of the entire GDP of the Republic of Korea.iii (!)
In other words, it’s a pretty significant number.
Maybe that number seems a little less incredible when you realize that an average of 51 million tons moved every day in the U.S. during 2018.iv
To give you some perspective, the Empire State Building weighs 365,000 tons.v So that means, every day, the U.S. transportation system moved more than 139 Empire State Buildings.
There’s one industry in the U.S. that did the majority of the heavy lifting. Trucks carried 60.8% of all freight by weight in 2018.vi According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, trucks are the primary mode for moving freight less than 1,000 miles. Between 1,000 and 2,000 miles, that distinction goes to rail freight.vii
If you’re not already convinced, you’ll see just how much the U.S. relies on the trucking industry in the following numbers.
Spotlight on the Trucking Industry
That’s how long it would take for significant shortages to occur at grocery stores if long-haul truckers suddenly stopped working, according to estimates from the American Trucking Associations. Smaller stores would feel the crunch in a day or two.viii If you ever wondered about the significance of over-the-road transport, these numbers make it pretty clear.
Further on the topic of the impact of trucking, the trucking industry employed 3.6 million truck drivers in 2019. When you include those employed in jobs related to trucking activity, that number rises to 7.95 million—about 5% of the entire employed population in the U.S.ix If you’re curious about the makeup of those 3.6 million truck drivers, Census Bureau data shows that they’re:
- Largely men; more than 90%, in fact.
- Older, on average, than other workers, with a median age of 46.
- Twice as likely to be veterans when compared to the workforce average as a whole.x
Finally as it moved tons of billions of freight in 2019, the trucking industry generated $791.7 billion in gross freight revenues. In contrast, the Federal Railroad Administration estimates that rail freight is close to an $80-billion-dollar industry.xi
As a side note, did you know that the rail industry is dominated by seven railroads, all designated as “Class I” by the Surface Transportation Board? Although about 630 railroads operate within the U.S., these seven account for 88% of employees and 94% of total revenue.xii
Next, let’s investigate one of the freight modes we haven’t yet discussed: ocean freight.
Examining the Impact of Ocean Freight
Just as trucking provides a vital link within the U.S., ocean freight is critical to the movement of goods internationally. In fact, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has estimated that 80% of international goods move by sea.xiii
To keep up with increased demand for containers, container factories are expected to create 5.4 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers in 2021. Compared that to the 2.8 million that were produced in 2019, that’s a significant ramp-up in output.xiv
Maybe this seems like a huge number of new containers, until you realize…
In 2019, 811 million TEUs of containers were handled in ports worldwide.xv It’s hard to truly grasp exactly what that number represents. However, just imagine that all of these 20′ long x 8′ wide containers were placed next to each other. 811 million 20′ containers would be almost enough to cover the entire state of Connecticut.xvi
What kind of power is moving all this freight? Container ships powered by massive engines, such as the new Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C, an engine with 107,389 horsepower. It currently powers the M/V Emma Maersk, a container ship capable of carrying 11,000 TEUs. The engine itself stands 44 feet tall—taller than a four-story building.xvii
For comparison, Ford’s Mil-Spec Automotive Intrepid F-150 clocks in at 675HP.xviii That means you’d need 159 of those trucks to equal the power of the engine in the Emma Maersk.
Where does the majority of this freight enter the U.S.? There’s one port that dominates: the Port of Los Angeles, which handles 20% of all incoming cargo for the U.S. xix In 2020, the port handled 9,213,395 TEUs.xx
That said, there’s a second U.S. port that puts up its own sets of big numbers every year.
When you examine U.S. ports by total waterborne tonnage, foreign waterborne tonnage, imports, export tonnage, and vessel transits, the Port of Houston hits #1 in all five categories.xxi For comparison, the port handled 3,001,164 TEUs in 2020,xxii about a third of the Port of Los Angeles. So although Houston has some impressive stats to its name, the Port of Los Angeles still reigns supreme where sheer TEUs are concerned.
Finally, there’s one mode we haven’t yet discussed: air freight. If you want to get to know this freight mode by its numbers, check out our recent run-down of air freight statistics. Because of recent volatility in this market, we gave it an article all its own. Reviewing the numbers can give you some sense of where this burgeoning industry is headed going forward. (All signs point to up!)
Discovering Freight and Logistics by the Numbers
Even if you work in the field of freight and logistics, it can be hard to grasp the impact—and the magnitude—of this vital industry. These numbers offer a glimpse into just how much the world relies on freight and logistics, which fills our shelves, powers our economy, and keeps the world connected.
Want to take a deep dive on your organization’s logistics stats? One of our logistics experts would be happy to help you evaluate your supply chain—and the numbers behind it. Just reach out to us for a free consultation.
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