- The truck-driver shortage has been a hot topic over the past year.
- But dozens of truckers have told Business Insider it doesn’t exist.
- A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed what truck drivers have long said and indicated the trucker labor market is similar to all blue-collar-occupation labor markets.
The American Trucking Associations, which represents trucking-company leadership rather than truckers themselves, has said that the US is short 50,000 truck drivers and that the industry will need to recruit and train 898,000 new truckers by 2026. Trucking companies ranked the truck-driver shortage their top industry issue in 2017 and 2018.
But a Bureau of Labor Statistics report published this month concluded that oft-parroted claims of a truck-driver shortage were overblown.
“As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market, and while it tends to be ‘tight,’ it imposes no constraints on entry into (or exit from) the occupation,” the report said. “There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”
Kristen Monaco, an associate BLS commissioner, and Stephen V. Burks, a professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, wrote the report, published in the BLS’s Monthly Labor Review. They found that the factors that have driven trucking executives to describe the truck-driver labor situation as a “shortage” wouldn’t lead most economists to the same conclusion.
“Economists would not regard high turnover rates and the associated problems of recruiting and retaining drivers in this part of trucking as a long-term shortage,” Burks and Monaco wrote. “Nor would they call these conditions a ‘broken market,’ except to the extent that one might use that term for a secondary labor market segment, since the high turnover that marks such a segment is an indicator that the jobs in it are unattractive to many potential employees.”
The American Trucking Associations did not respond to a request for comment.
For some truck drivers, this “shortage” has been a boon for their take-home pay. First-year Walmart truckers can now earn about $87,500 on average, up from $86,000. Several truckers at Smokey Point Distributing, based in Arlington, Washington, received bonuses of about $20,000 last year. Atlas Van Lines, based in Evansville, Indiana, announced its “largest and most extensive” pay increase in August.
Nearly half of all truckers said their pay went up in 2018, compared with 11% who said the same in 2017. And sign-on bonuses for flatbed drivers jumped to $6,000 in the second quarter of 2018 from $1,500 in Q2 2017, the principal of the National Transportation Institute previously told Business Insider.
But as Matthew C. Klein at Barron’s wrote, most truck drivers haven’t seen their salaries increase significantly – even though their employers are sounding the alarm on a shortage and other blue-collar fields have appropriately bumped salaries; their take-home pay has risen only to the degree of that of other workers:
“Trucker wages have grown rapidly since last spring, but that simply compensates them for the wage stagnation that occurred from June 2016 to March 2017, and again from October 2017 to April 2018. Since the start of 2016, truck driver wages are up just 2.3% at an annual average rate, compared with 2.7% for nonsupervisory workers across the U.S. private sector.”
A Business Insider analysis found that median wages for truck drivers had decreased by 21% on average since 1980, while in some areas they’d declined by as much as 50%.
From 1977 to 1987, mean truck-driver earnings declined by 24%, according to research by Michael Belzer, a Wayne State University economics professor.
And from 1980 to today, median trucking wages have sunk by as much as 35.8% in some metropolitan areas, Business Insider found.
The BLS’s findings seem to confirm what dozens of truck drivers and industry analysts have told Business Insider over the past year: There isn’t a truck-driver shortage – just a lack of people who want to work 70 hours a week for a job that pays, on average, $42,000 annually.
Will Kling, a truck driver, told Business Insider last year that the driver shortage had nothing to do “with the fact that people don’t want to do this job.”
“Little boys still pump their arms for trucks,” Kling said. “People want this job, but they can’t do it and support their family.”