Last month, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published a report based off of their research into the ‘truck driver shortage.’ The researchers stated that BLS “does not find evidence” that the shortage exists. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has responded, saying that it does exist and accused the researchers of having “some basic misunderstandings.”
While the report (and our coverage of it) are more nuanced than this, it can essentially be boiled down to this: The trucking industry follows the basic laws of economics. If you increase driver pay, more workers will become truckers and more truckers will stay in the industry for longer.
In their response letter, the ATA disputes that claim, saying that the problem isn’t finding drivers, it’s finding ”qualified” drivers who meet “age requirements, CDL testing standards, strict drug and alcohol testing regimes and… clean driving records.”
But that response doesn’t address the high turnover and burnout rate among truckers. If carriers can find applicants to hire, but can’t keep them from leaving, complaints about “barriers to entry for new drivers” ring hollow.
One thing the ATA does not address in its response letter is the assertion in the report that large carriers may actually be creating and maintaining a driver shortage as a deliberate “cost-minimizing response.” That is, keeping wages low so that experienced drivers quit the industry, allowing carriers to hire less expensive rookie drivers.
If true, this would allow large carriers to undercut their competition with cheap freight rates. That would make it harder for carriers who pay their drivers well to compete, driving them out of business. The large carriers could then eat up that market share and replace the well-paid drivers with cheap rookies, again driving down average freight costs and starting the cycle all over again. This could theoretically lead to large carriers hauling a much greater percentage of freight, earning large carriers more money and allowing them more influence in the marketplace.
But despite the findings of the report, ATA’s leadership continues to assert that the driver shortage is real.
“At the end of the day, forget my research, forget the Department of Labor research,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said to Transport Topics. “Go ask trucking companies and go ask for-hire truckload carriers if they can find enough drivers. If that’s true then why are all of these fleets complaining?”