Brookings Report: COVID-19 is hurting many industries and workers, but could it help trade and logistics?

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A new Brookings report examines what trade and logistics workers may face in this ever-evolving landscape. Trade and logistics workers make up 14.2% of the workforce in Memphis. 

It will be hard to predict where and when COVID-19 will impact supply chains. These networks are complex, interwoven, and responsible for moving an enormous volume and variety of international and domestic goods. It’s difficult to gauge their ability to adapt quickly because we don’t know how demand and supply may transform, especially if specific metro areas or the entire country falls into a recession. How many more people will shop for food and other goods online, leading to heightened deliveries and major hiring by companies like Amazon? Could foreign products essential to manufacturing fail to reach our shores? There are simply too many variables to control for.

The report does make two points clear:

  1. Some places are more exposed than others when it comes to managing the movement of goods,
  2. and millions of workers in those places will directly feel COVID-19’s effects.

Collectively, there are 9.2 million trade and logistics workers across the country that form the backbone of our infrastructure workforce. Although workers in metros with large ports such as Los Angeles or New York are top of mind, many others are concentrated in smaller hubs. The trade and logistics industry actually carries greater economic weight in some less-large and midsized markets, leaving them more exposed to shocks such as COVID-19. While trade and logistics workers make up 6.3% of the total U.S. workforce—or more than one of every 20 workers—they account for a much higher share in distribution hubs such as Memphis, (14.2%), Stockton, Calif. (13.3%), and Allentown, Pa. (11.1%).

The livelihood of all these workers will depend on how COVID-19 impacts trade. Which activities will effectively shutter, which will expand, and how will these changes alter the movement of goods? How will a national or local recession start to impact long-range durable goods orders and other supply chain components? Will the shift away from office work lead to a net decrease in courier and express delivery services?

Read the full report.

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