An article published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics argued there would be no shortage of truck drivers if wages improved enough, and two trucking associations — the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) — offered differing views on the article’s conclusion.
“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,” reads the article authored by Stephen Burks, a professor in the department of economics at the University of Minnesota Morris, and Kristen Monaco, associate commissioner of the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “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 driver shortage issues are concentrated in long-distance truckload (TL) motor freight, which contains between one-sixth and one-fourth of all heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, according to the article. Burks and Monaco noted the issues localized in the TL segment are not visible in the aggregate data and require a distinct analysis.
“While we do use ATA data to identify one segment of the trucking labor market (long-distance TL motor freight) that has experienced high and persistent turnover rates for decades, the overall picture is consistent with a market in which labor supply responds to increasing labor demand over time, and a deeper look does not find evidence of a secular shortage,” they wrote in the conclusion.
Those same barriers also prevent carriers from finding qualified applicants, Costello argued.
“In some cases, carriers must reject 90 percent of applicants out of hand because they fail to meet at least one of the prerequisites to drive in interstate commerce,” he said.
Costello later added, “In addition to the misunderstandings about trucking, the authors’ own concession that wages are going up significantly, as motor carriers are unable to hire quality drivers, undercuts their own conclusions. This alone suggests there is a systemic issue with getting enough labor in the for-hire truckload driver market.”
Todd Spencer, OOIDA president, called a driver shortage a “myth ... used to push agendas that are harmful to the industry and highway safety.” He said OOIDA opposes reducing the minimum age requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license and operate in interstate commerce from 21 to 18.
The occupations from which truck drivers come and go, including construction, production and other non-trucking transportation jobs, are similar, which is evidence that truckers consider the earning and hours of the jobs as alternatives to trucking.
“Perhaps most surprising, a basic model of moving between occupations shows that truck drivers have lower occupational migration than other workers with similar education levels,” Burks and Monaco wrote. “This suggests that, in the aggregate, the labor market for truck drivers works about as well as the labor markets for other blue-collar occupations.”