The truck driver shortage continues to run rampant throughout the United States, even making ATRI’s Most Wanted List of trucking industry concerns year after year. But, is this nationwide shortage really as prevalent as the industry says?
Sisu Energy out of Texas recently made headlines when it offered to pay truckers up to “$728,000 a year” due to the shortage being so pervasive.
“Those news stories flying around out there are very misleading and inaccurate,” said Sisu’s director of recruiting, Karrie Gundy, who noted that the company doesn’t even pay yearly salaries to truckers. In fact, Sisu hires independent contractors solely, meaning they get paid by the loads they haul and can only begin earning once they have the certifications, licensing, skills, and commercial truck needed to haul “frac sand” for the company. Still, the company maintains that productive truckers can eventually make $14,000 a week (although they have to cover their own insurance, fuel, equipment, and maintenance costs).
American Trucking Associations, along with other lobbying groups, have pushed the argument that the shortage of truck drivers has remained a major national issue for four decades now, but one may wonder how could such an employee shortage last so long? Has it really affected the average consumer? It is simple economics that when worker numbers are low, you need to raise wages to solve the problem. So, what’s really going on?
“In our type of economy, worker shortages are usually solved by employers paying higher wages to entice people to work for them,” said Levinson and Stefani’s Jay Stefani. “It is beyond believable that a driver shortage could last four decades without the trucking industry improving working conditions or paying fair wages.”
Groups like ATA have been claiming that relaxed regulations in the trucking industry would help to bring in more drivers, such as legislation like the DRIVE-Safe Act. This bill would allow drivers between 18- and 21-years-old to operate commercial trucks across state lines.
The trucking industry loves cheap labor, and has found ways to secure it for decades.
“The driver shortage has been a persistent issue in our industry for many years,” said ATA’s chief economist, Bob Costello. “We have numerous examples of fleets of all sizes raising pay, increasing bonuses, and increasing benefits–like time at home–in response to the shortage.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this shortage, Costello explained, noting that recent regulation changes, and even stricter truck driver drug testing, have added fuel to the fire.
The main area the shortage affects within the industry is within that of long-haul trucking as more of these truckers leave the industry or retire, according to ATA. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators adds that while 450,000 new commercial driver’s licenses are issued each year, there are only currently between 300,000 and 500,000 long-haul truck drivers currently operating throughout the country.
“We have millions of people who have been trained to be heavy-duty truck drivers who are currently not working as heavy-duty truck drivers because the entry-level jobs are terrible,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist and trucking industry expert, Steve Viscelli.
Millions of Americans have been drawn to the trucking industry, but the way in which large trucking companies operate causes these new truckers to give up quickly. The largest concern? Wages.
Although the median annual income of a truck driver is just over $47,000, long-haulers often operate their trucks for an excessive number of hours–around 70 hours a week, if not more. Additionally, truckers are usually only paid for the number of miles they drive–on average, 52.3 cents per mile.
If these truckers must slow down en route due to construction, traffic, or inclement weather, they do not get paid more. They also don’t receive more pay for the time it takes to load or unload their hauls, nor for their “off-duty” time while they’re on the road.
“Driving a truck–especially interstate–is a difficult and demanding job,” noted Stefani. “These folks work long hours at physically demanding jobs. They’re being pressured to drive more miles in less time and for less money. And if they don’t? The trucking companies threaten to hire someone who will. And weakening safety standards–such as allowing teenagers to obtain CDLs–only lowers the bar, allowing these motor carriers to pay even less.”
The issue at hand isn’t finding ways to make entering the trucking industry more enticing to younger drivers. The solution? Make trucking companies pay their drivers enough–or more than enough–to do this difficult job that is essential to the American economy.