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Greg Webb
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Keep On Truckin’? Industry Shortage of Truckers Slows Down Business

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According to the American Trucking Association there was a shortage of 30,000 qualified truck drivers earlier this year. This shortage is predicted to rise to 200,000 over the next decade.

A recent New York Times article, The Trucking Industry Needs More Drivers,  stated that trucking companies are turning away business because they do not have enough drivers to handle the business. In a country where we have high numbers of unemployed workers, it is remarkable there are companies turning away business due to understaffing. One could understand if the lack of skilled employees was in the field of nuclear engineering.  Truck driving takes training, skill, discipline and some study, but it does not typically require an advanced degree.  A truck driver needs to obtain a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) from his or her state.  So, how did we get to this point?

There are likely many contributing factors, including our current top-down, economic mindset. This quote is illustrative,  “The numbers are revealing: Even as trucking companies and their trade association bemoan the driver shortage, truckers — or as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers — were paid 6 percent less, on average, in 2013 than a decade earlier, adjusted for inflation. It takes a peculiar form of logic to cut pay steadily and then be shocked that fewer people want to do the job.”  (New York Times, 8/10/14)

We have line workers, and other working class folks, making low wages, while corporate executives and officers are making huge salaries and also reaping the rewards from generous stock options.  As the system has become more and more unbalanced, it has seemingly become more difficult to implement the necessary changes to keep employees (and truck drivers).   Employees are paralyzed because they dare not ask for or demand a wage increase when others are being laid off. Or, worse yet, when jobs are being shipped overseas.  (Although it is quite difficult to move trucking driving jobs overseas).  Companies exist to maximize profits and make the shareholders happy, and wage increases (arguably) decrease the bottom line.

But is turning away business a reasonable alternative for the trucking industry?  Perhaps the numbers do not work if the trucking companies pay more, if their profit margins really are that thin.  Could they offset the low margins with volume?  Is the industry’s logic upside down, serving to keep unemployment high, wages low and economic growth slow?

Perhaps we are seeing some slow change in the trucking industry, with companies offering signing bonuses and other incentives to bring in new drivers. But it will be a long and uphill road to achieve a more attractive (balanced?) wage structure in the trucking industry, as well as in most other industries.