The reported truck-driver shortage has been a hot topic over the past few years. However, a report this year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
confirmed what truck drivers have been saying all along — the truck-driver market is actually comparable to all blue-collar jobs.
A quick Google search brings up plenty of mainstream publications proclaiming the shortage based on findings from the American Trucking Associations (ATA). While the ATA estimates a U.S. truck-driver shortage of 50,000, the BLS report contradicts this:
“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. There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”
The writers of the report determined that factors leading many trucking executives to describe the current market as a shortage wouldn’t cause most economists to come to the same conclusion.
A Summary of the BLS Findings Regarding the Trucking Shortage
Trucking Is Important, but Not Protected by Current Legislation
In 2017 there were around 1.75 million heavy and tractor-trailer drivers in the United States, along with 877,670 light truck drivers. The occupation is characterized by modest levels of education and low return to additional education.
Trucking is important — not just because of the large numbers employed in the occupation, but because it provides an important service to the country’s economy. Trucks were estimated to have hauled 61 percent of the total freight (by value) transported in the United States in 2016, and this activity accounted for an estimated 3.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
However, truck drivers engaged in interstate transportation are not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime provisions. Instead, drivers are governed by the Federal Hours of Service regulations, which limit drivers to ~60 hours of work over a seven-day period and do not require time-and-a-half pay for weekly hours over 40. Most tractor-trailer drivers work far more than 40 hours a week.
Truck Driver Earnings vs. Other Blue-Collar Jobs
The demand for truck drivers over the past 14 years has remained strong, while the demand for workers with low levels of education has declined substantially in other sectors. Driver employment is also stable or slightly increasing over time, and it is associated with earnings that are increasing in nominal terms and strong relative to those in other occupations with similar educational requirements. This picture is consistent with a labor market in which overall supply is responding to growing overall demand.
There Is High Turnover in the Long-Haul Trucking Segment
The long-distance TL motor freight segment has experienced a high and persistent turnover rate for decades, but the BLS is hesitant to call this a shortage. Rather, the high turnover rate just means many people entering the long-distance segment find the working conditions and pay unattractive.
If interstate trucking was subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime provisions of time-and-a-half pay for weekly hours over 40, the job would become more financially appealing. It would then attract more people into the profession.
In short, the findings show there isn’t a truck driver shortage; there is just a lack of people wanting to work long weeks for 40 hours of pay. However, the overall data still shows the labor market for truck drivers works about as well as the labor markets for other blue-collar occupations.