Spreading the real story behind the ‘driver shortage’

Recently, an old friend – a fellow journalist – sent me a link to an article.

His note read, “I’m sure you already know the crux of this CBS News story, but I’m sending it along in case this take offers something different and useful.”

The article was the usual panic piece about how the supposed truck driver shortage was going to create problems for everyone.

It noted that the ATA thinks the industry is short more than 50,000 drivers right now, and could be short 174,000 in eight years’ time if “nothing happens.”

As you can imagine, I replied that, yes, I am quite aware of what the story is talking about.

But then I decided to go further. I’m always encouraging truckers to educate people outside the industry about what’s happening, so I best put my money where my mouth is.

My reply was a bit long: 

Yes (I’m aware of what CBS is reporting on), although there’s an interesting story there.

The overall industry has an annual turnover rate of roughly 100 percent. Most of that is in the largest carriers in the truckload sector, which have turnovers far in excess of that (and they are the ones touting – for roughly 30 years – the “shortage.”). Some are well above 200 percent annually.

More than 400,000 new CDLs are issued every single year for Class A drivers, in addition to those already possessing those licenses. So when they talk about in a few years needing 50,000 new drivers, one wonders what they did with the 400,000 new ones from this year alone.

Taken with other facts, it’s clear that the problem is not a shortage. The problem is the turnover, which is caused primarily by their poor pay and poor treatment of their drivers.

Are grocery and Walmart shelves empty? If a real shortage existed, they would be. Loads are moved, and moved on time.

If the supply of drivers was low and demand was high (i.e., a shortage), then the price of that commodity (what is paid to drivers) would go up. In fact, driver pay in constant dollars is at the lowest level since 1980. Some drivers make less now in absolute dollars than drivers in 1980.

However, the large corporations who have a vested interest in keeping driver pay low have spent millions on a massive PR campaign to convince everyone a shortage exists – and everyone is buying it, even in the face of contrary evidence.

While citing the perceived shortage, some of those companies have asked for drivers from other countries to be allowed to drive here, for 18- to 21-year-olds to drive interstate, and other measures to increase their potential supply. Notably, they are looking at groups that are easier to exploit than their current pool of potential workers.

Notably, smaller carriers that pay more, offer better benefits and better treatment have very low turnover rates. The less-than-truckload sector, dominated by union shops with good pay and benefits, have astoundingly low turnover. The difference is pretty clear, even to the casual observer.

It’s one of the worst examples of our profession (journalism) falling prey to a PR campaign without independently checking out the facts that I’ve ever seen. And unfortunately, it’s being used to push through federal policy that allows the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people.

That’s my answer when a friend entirely outside trucking asked about the driver shortage. What’s your answer? You can email me here or call our listener comment line at 1-800-324-6856.

Don’t just let us know. Tell other people – friends, family, neighbors and more.

The ATA is bluntly winning this war of public opinion. Together, we can turn public attention to the truth.

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