Trucking Economist Claims ‘Truck Driver Shortage’ is Now 80,000; Will Double in Ten Years
Arlington, VA – A leading trucking economist claims the so-called “truck driver shortage” is worsening and will double within ten years if nothing is done to address it.
In his annual labor report, Bob Costello, chief economist at the American Trucking Associations (ATA), has raised the estimate of drivers needed from 61,500 to 80,000.
“We will be short just over 80,000 drivers, and to be clear that is the difference between the number of drivers we have out hauling freight and the number that we ideally need to haul freight,” Costello told Transport Topics, ATA’s media arm. “When you look at the spot market and truckload, freight has gone up enough, and essentially the number of drivers this year, across the board is flat.”
According to Costello’s findings, pandemic-related challenges have negatively impacted the number of drivers coming out of school.
Plus, he contends “the driver pool is not going up as fast as freight is going up,” especially in the industry’s over-the-road segment.
“We are attracting drivers to this industry, let me be clear,” Costello said. “We are by no means suggesting otherwise. And at its core, this is an over-the-road, for-hire truckload problem.”
Further, he argues that despite average weekly earnings for longhaul truckers “going up at five times the historical average since the year 2000, over the last three years, ’19, ’20 and ’21, we have not added drivers in the longhaul space.”
The problem is “all about lifestyle,” Costello explained. “Drivers that get home daily, nightly, those jobs are increasing. Where we are not adding drivers is the longhaul, over-the-road drivers.”
According to ATA data, if nothing is done, the industry’s shortage will grow to 160,000 drivers by 2030.
Moreover, Costello asserted the industry must attract an estimated 1 million drivers during that time to keep pace with expected demand.
The “driver shortage” debate is one that has been had at length within the trucking community for a long time.
While many trucking executives believe it is legitimate, many truck drivers do not.
The debate was once again reignited in 2019 when a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) took ATA’s data and methods to task.
The BLS study concluded the perceived labor shortage, particularly in the long-haul truckload segment, could be remedied by providing wages commensurate with the demands and working conditions of the profession.
Costello quickly fired back at the BLS researchers who authored the study arguing they “demonstrated some basic misunderstandings about the trucking industry generally and how we at ATA and in the industry discuss the driver shortage.”
Whether the driver shortage is fact or fiction, the undeniable reality is most media outlets commonly report it as truth and many U.S. lawmakers believe it as well.
Regardless of where you come down, one must reasonably acknowledge that the ATA has largely been successful in its efforts to persuade policy makers on the issue.