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The White House aims to boost the ranks of the pandemic-strained trucking industry

Trucks haul shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 24.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
Trucks haul shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 24.

In a bid to improve the nation's ongoing supply chain problems, the White House on Thursday announced a plan to recruit and train a new generation of truck drivers to bolster an industry that's been stretched thin during the pandemic.

The Truck Action Plan is part of the Biden administration's Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, meant to address near-term supply chain bottlenecks that were caused or made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Trucking plays a critical role in the U.S. supply chain and economy. America's truck drivers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, delivering goods to every corner of this country," the White House said in a fact sheet about its plan.

Trucks are responsible for carrying some 72% of goods within the United States, and the White House statement noted that for a majority of communities, trucks are the only form of freight available.

While wages for truckers have risen 7 to 12% in the last year, the White House said, the industry as a whole has not returned to pre-pandemic employment levels.

"A strong, stable, and safe trucking workforce that offers good-paying jobs to millions of truck drivers is a critical lifeblood of our economy," the White House said. "But outdated infrastructure, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a historic volume of goods moving through our economy have strained capacity across the supply chain, including in trucking."

The fact sheet said the pandemic had exacerbated underlying problems in the industry, including an aging workforce, high turnover rates and unpaid, wasted time for drivers.

The plan includes providing resources and funding to help states expedite the commercial driver's license process, a 90-day challenge to expand a registered apprenticeship program, and outreach to veterans as recruitment for new drivers.

Senior administration officials stressed that though some of the steps are focused on longer-term changes, their proposal includes actions that would support short-term economic recovery and help alleviate supply chain snarls.

The trucking plan from the administration, which has also taken steps to try to ease congestion at backed-up ports, comes as the country faces inflation rates that are higher than they've been in decades.

On Thursday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh will host a roundtable at the White House with leaders in the trucking industry.

The two departments are also launching the Driving Good Jobs initiative, which the White House says will study ways to recruit new drivers from underrepresented communities, and creating a task force to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.

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