The Truck Driver Shortage: Just How Bad is It?

 In Industry News

For several years, the logistics and transportation industry has been plagued with headlines of the truck driver shortage and how it is affecting the industry. Carriers point to this as one of the main reasons for tight capacity, and as a result — higher rates. But there may be more to the story.

Trucking is the primary mode of freight transportation in the U.S. Truck driving is important to the U.S. shipping industry because trucks are estimated to have carried 61 percent of total freight in 2017, which equates to 3.5 percent of GDP. Given that this is an industry that’s so important to the U.S., one might expect that drivers would be clamoring for jobs. Yet barriers to entry such as age requirements, CDL testing, a clean driving record, and drug and alcohol testing eliminate many candidates.

BLS Study

Many industry experts have pointed to a lower pay scale as an explanation why there are so few new drivers entering the market to replace the aging driver population. A recently published BLS Study, authored by Kristen Monaco from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Stephen Burks, an economics professor at University of Minnesota-Morris, found that higher driver wages does lead to an increase in the number of new hires, especially for those who will work longer hours for increased pay. Even with the higher expected hours for truck drivers, the authors contend that economic incentives work in this labor market. The study also discovered that annual trucking wages for the period 2003–2017 exceeded those of other blue-collar jobs.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association agrees with the study, saying that the shortage could be mitigated with higher pay. The association claims that the truck driver shortage is a myth, easily rectified with higher wages.

Not So Fast

Not everyone is agreeing with the BLS study, which contradicts some recent reporting that increasing driver pay has not had an impact on the shortage. ATA chief economist Bob Costello states that there is some information missing from the study. The issue is not with the number of applicants for the driver positions, but with the qualifications of these new hires. He claims that carriers reject 90 percent of applicants because they do not meet at least one of the criteria for drivers. The comparison to other blue-collar jobs is also not accurate because carriers cannot hire just anyone to drive their trucks. Candidates must meet the requirements set out by the industry and the individual carrier before they are even looked at.

Qualified drivers, not the quantity of drivers, is the real issue, which the study does not address. The study also does not take into consideration the long hours that a truck driver is away from home, which is also a significant reason for the shortage, according to the ATA. Because the study ignores this contention that the ATA has stood by for many years, Mr. Costello questions the validity of the study.

There is no doubt that the industry needs more qualified drivers: those who meet all of the requirements and are able to handle the demands of the job.

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