If you’re a frequent online shopper, it’s likely you’ve noticed a small increase in prices of goods from Amazon and even some delays in delivery. Amazon isn’t alone. Businesses like General Mills and Tyson Foods have also been forced to raise prices as a result of the shortage of truck drivers. Many forget that most products they consume are driven across country. As a result of the lack of drivers, businesses have been left scrambling to incentivize the positions. Truck drivers play a much more vital role in the economy than you might expect. Here are a few interesting and surprising facts about the trucking industry…
6. Demand is so high that truckers get paid more than teachers
There are more than 63,000 open positions this year in the trucking industry, and that number is only going to get higher in coming years. Some have estimated that it may even double as more drivers leave the industry. Demand is so high that companies have lowered qualifications to the bare minimum. Industry insiders have stated that trucking companies are willingly to hire drivers if they can simply pass a physical. One recruiter told the Washington Post that she recently placed someone who had served time for manslaughter. Recruiters are currently offering trucking jobs that pay between $60,000-70,000, plus a $4,000 signing bonus. The median salary for teachers? $58,000.
Despite the significant bump in salary, many applicants are still turning down the position, leading many industry insiders to believe the problem isn’t just about money. It’s about the nature of the truck driving industry and a driver’s place in it.
5. The life of a truck driver isn’t easy
How hard could it be? Put it in gear and drive across the country, stopping at truck stops and delivering goods to warehouses. How could it be so hard to fill a simple position that pays so well? It turns out it’s not as simple as we’d like to make out to be. One man, interviewed by the Washington Post, said that after he told his uncles he was thinking about joining them as truck drivers they said that they would kill him. The interviewee’s uncles were right to warn him of the dangers of truck driving. Trucking requires an individual to leave their family or home for weeks and live in a small cabin or sleep in the truck. As a result, many truck drivers see their family lives fall apart. Divorces are high in the trucking industry, with many drivers losing their families and returning home to children who have forgotten about them.
Life on the road is no picnic, either. Drivers sits for hours in diesel trucks and eat meals that few Americans would find healthy or pleasing. As a result, truck drivers suffer from many health problems. For truckers, weight gain and heart disease are common. More than half of truck drivers report high blood pressure, obesity, and interestingly enough 51% were cigarette smokers (more than double national average). Long term diseases often hits truckers particularly hard. The prevalence of diabetes among truck drivers was twice that of the general population (14% vs. 7%). In addition, 22% of long-haul truck drivers were either taking medicine for, or had been told they had, high cholesterol.
And if disease doesn’t get to you, don’t worry. Something else will. Trucking is one of the most dangerous professions in the country. A study by the Labor Department found that there were 1,000 fatalities among motor vehicle operators in 2016, meaning that trucking is a more dangerous profession than law enforcement officer.
Signing up to being a truck driver seems to also be accepting a fate of long-term health problems or worse. For many, the pay isn’t worth that fate.
4. Lack of truck drivers damages the economy
On a recent conference call, a Walmart representative called rising transportation costs the retail store’s primary “headwind.” Naturally, as companies compete for drivers the salaries of drivers has increased. Even with the increase, recruiters still cannot fill out the shortages, leading to more generous offers for potential recruits. Jason Olesh, the vice president at Aim Transportation solutions recounted his pitch to a pair of new graduates from truck driving training school. According to Olesh, he usually reserved his best offer – regional routes, $70,000 with full benefits, and “only” 10-12 hour days – for his most experienced applicants. This year, he pitched such an offer to two 20-somethings who just graduated. Even with his generous offers, Olesh laments not being able to make a dent in the labor shortage.
Many industry leaders believe that the lack of drivers will have a significant effect on the economy. As more and more companies pass on costs to consumers, it could lead to prices of goods rising so quickly it could lead to a recession.
3. It’s a boy’s club, but they’re hoping to change that
This one may not be that surprising, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Not only is the industry struggling to recruit truck drivers, they’re also struggling to maintain their fleet. According to Derek Leathers, CEO of Omaha-based trucking company Werner Enterprises, demographics are working against the industry as the majority of their drivers are above the average age of comparable industries.
With drivers retiring, new drivers quitting or leaving for other positions, turnover is at an all-time high. As a result, the industry has decided to finally attempt a new tactic. Recruit women. Only 6% of truck drivers are women, and finally as a result of the shortage, the trucking industry has tried to “broaden its appeal.”
2. Trucking and inflation
In June, transportation costs posted a 1.1 % gain, their biggest gain since 2008. Businesses are transferring the increased costs into the price of goods, which is already starting to affect consumers. With the Trump administration levying tariffs and engaging in a trade war, American consumers are likely to face an even bigger increase in the cost of goods. Inflation has already hit a six year high, with the price of goods wiping out the small increase in wages that workers have gained. If the truck driver shortage does not get remedied, and the Trump administration continues to escalate a trade war with China and other nations, the cost of imported goods will only increase.
For the last two decades, the amount of truck drivers has ranged from 3 million to 3.5 million drivers; however, freight volumes are projected to”increase by 37% over the next decade. With a labor shortage of 50,700 drivers, and increase in demand of moving goods, industry projections believe the shortage will skyrocket to 174,000 by 2026. With a seemingly inability to attract new drivers, how will we avert disaster and fill this hole in our economy?
1. What will be the impact of driverless cars?
While some may fear automation, there’s nothing stopping it from becoming a reality. The question is how long it will take. For the trucking industry, it couldn’t come sooner. Billions are being poured into start-ups and trucking companies who are trying to develop the technology. Companies have engaged in an arms race to develop self-driving cars, with outfits like Google and Uber engaging in litigation over patent infringement. A ton of hurdles still remain before driverless cars get on the road. Passing regulatory guidelines and the public backlash after an inevitable fatality means that driverless cars may not revolutionize the trucking industry for at least another several decades. When that day comes, the effect on the economy will be momentous: insurance companies, truck stops, vocational schools will all have to reckon with a new reality.
One interesting facet of driverless cars is that it’s a misnomer. The trucks will not, at least in the beginning, drive themselves through all environments and circumstances. Human drivers will have to take over in complicated situations. If a human being will still have to be present in the truck during the voyage, it remains to be seen whether the underlying problem has been solved. How do recruiters convince American workers to sit in a truck for 10 plus hours a day? Does having an automated system make the job more appealing and worth the many health problems that would still develop? Only time will tell.