- An analysis of the truck driver labor market by the Bureau of Labor Statistics countered the commonly held notion of a driver shortage. "The labor market for truck drivers works about as well as the labor markets for other blue-collar occupations," BLS wrote.
- The bureau said it expects the potential for a long-term driver shortage will dissipate if wages rise.
- BLS said labor supply issues in the industry are concentrated in the long-distance truckload freight market. "A more specific analysis of this segment is needed, but is not feasible with the data used in the present article," the bureau wrote.
In the late 1970s, with the advent of movies — like "Convoy," "B.J. and the Bear" and "High Ballin’" — and television shows like "White Line Fever," trucking was considered a romantic vocation. These "last American cowboys" spoke their special language on CB radios while navigating the highways and backroads of America, outrunning state police smokies and getting their cargo delivered just in the nick of time. Cue the air horn.
But the lure of the open road was often an illusion. My primary job in college was in a distribution center, where I unloaded trailer loads of paper products and janitorial supplies. The drivers were not as depicted on the big screen. They were often tired, hungry, homesick and increasingly arthritic. I hustled to get them back on the road and on to their next load. Their primary message to me? Stay in school.
The data analyzed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics may show a tightness in the labor market that can be solved with some higher wages. I appreciate their economic calculations and understand their conclusions. But tell that to several people I’ve spoken with in the past month or so.
- Gus owns a bus company and he cannot get enough drivers to run both his commuter routes and the charter business. Gus pays for non-drivers to get their CDL and has recently increased the pay of drivers to retain them. He has not raised his rates to his riders, causing a bit of a margin crunch.
- Bill runs logistics for a multi-branch industrial supplier. He’s increased his reliance on brokers to find trucking companies to move freight between distribution centers. His regular transportation providers has become unreliable, and his customer service numbers have begun to slip.
- Nancy complains her suppliers are raising prices primarily due to the increase in shipping costs, driven by higher driver wages. She also laments about the length of time to get her imported product from the West Coast to the East Coast because of shipping constraints. She’s told, "we just don’t have enough drivers."
Trucking, including issues driven by the driver shortage, is a major supply chain issue. While the data may be neat and tidy, the real action on the front lines is anything but.