Although 90 percent of everything bought in the United States is shipped via large ships, the shipping industry as a whole has become increasingly invisible to the average consumer. As the price of labor in the United States has continued to rise, the price of labor in countries such as China has continued to drop. This has resulted in an industry that involves shipping goods such as food, clothing, and electronics that were produced in another country to the United States. With ships large enough to fit 18,000 boxes and at least 20 million containers traveling the ocean at any one point in time, it is apparent that shipping is a key force in globalization and the United States economy.


Without the shipping industry, life as it is known in the United States would likely be vastly different. It is typically more expensive to have goods produced and processed in the United States – and that difference would be reflected in the price tag for the consumer. Products that reach the U.S. via ship undergo a journey through vast oceans, unpredictable weather patterns, and face the possibility of pirate attacks along the coast of Somalia.


Shipping industries have an expansive workforce, yet are highly secretive. Certain shipowner associations are so private that they will not reveal just how many members they currently have. However, the majority of shipping companies are comprised of Filipino men. Men account for 98 percent of the workforce, and Filipino men in particular account for an entire third of ship workers.


The shipping industry does have its downsides. Only 5 percent of containers shipped to the United States are physically inspected. In addition, the shipping industry produces pollution equivalent to the 6th most polluting country in the world. This is due to the sheer volume of the shipping industry. As a whole, transport via ship is significantly more “green” than shipping with a truck or plane.


The shipping industry is crucial to the lives of most Americans, yet few consider just how low price clothing and affordable technology reaches their homes. Nearly everything that is used, consumed, and bought makes its way to the United States thanks to the ships and the individuals who work on them. Although invisible to the majority of people, the shipping industry is crucial to American society.