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Supply Chain News: There really is a Driver Shortage and It's Worse than Ever, ATA Says


Record Shortage of 60,000 Likely to Rise Much Higher, New Report Says

July 30, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

US shippers have certainly been conditioned to believe there is a severe and growing truck driver shortage, driving rates up as lack of drivers prevents most US carriers from adding capacity.

That belief window was slightly smudged last year, after an April 2018 report from the US Department of Labor questioned several widely accepted notions relative to the market for drivers.

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To meet the nation's freight demand, the report said the industry will need to hire 1.1 million new truck drivers over the next decade β€” an average of 110,000 per year

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The report, for example, addressed the often stated belief that the labor market for truck drivers is somehow structurally broken, and thus does not behave the way a normal labor market would.

Not so, said the Labor Department report said, noting for example that workers leaving the truck driving field was about the same as other professions, such as manufacturing. (See US Labor Department Report Challenges Beliefs Relative to a Truck Driver Shortage.)

All it would take to solve whatever driver shortage does exist would easily be remedied by simply raising pay, the report found

"But carriers don't believe they can raise driver wages sufficiently to alleviate the driver shortage because they think they won't get paid for it by shippers," the report noted.

The American Truckers Associations (ATA) immediately pushed back on the Labor Department report.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello told Transport Topics, the ATA's own magazine, that "Trucking is very different than almost all other blue-collar jobs. I think they [the report authors] made some critical errors."

For example, Costello said researchers had difficulty isolating the over-the-road segment of the industry in their analysis.

Now, the ATA is out with its own most recent analysis of the US driver market. It says that at the end of 2018, the driver shortage rose to some 60,000, a new record.

"Over the past 15 years, we've watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we've seen to date," Costello said.

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The shortage at the end of 2018 was up 20% from the end of 2017.

"We're forecasting that this year, the shortage will actually improve slightly, just a little bit as freight remains soft," Costello said. "We did attract more people to the industry, but it's not improving significantly."

The increase in the driver shortage should be a "warning" to carriers, shippers and policymakers, he added, because "if conditions don't change substantively, our industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028." (See graphic from ATA below).


To meet the nation's freight demand, the report said the industry will need to hire 1.1 million new truck drivers over the next decade β€” an average of 110,000 per year β€” to replace retiring drivers and keep up with growth in the economy.

"The combination of a surging freight economy and carriers' need for qualified drivers could severely disrupt the supply chain," Costello warned.

The ATA hopes in part to close the gap by recruiting more women into driver jobs. Women made up just 6.6% of drivers in 2018, little changed over 20 years.

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