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Trucking Suffers Retention Problem, Not Real Shortage of Drivers?

Last month I mentioned that South Dakota seems to be short on truck drivers. But this Planet Money report suggests the “shortage” is just propaganda promoted by the trucking industry to push for dangerous deregulation:

In a 2019 study published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, economists Stephen V. Burks and Kristen Monaco investigated claims by industry leaders that the trucking labor market was somehow “broken” enough to create a decades-long shortage. Standard economics says if you don’t have enough workers, you raise wages and within a reasonable amount of time, presto, no more shortage. Is trucking somehow different? A thorough investigation led them to conclude that the trucking labor market is not different. It is not broken. Yes, they say, the trucking labor market is “tight” — meaning that companies are competing to fill open jobs — but it functions in the same way as any other labor market.

“There is no shortage,” says Todd Spencer, the president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). His organization represents more than 150,000 mostly self-employed truck drivers around the country. Their interest in improving the pay and livelihoods of their trucker members has long come into conflict with the interest of the ATA, which represents the big trucking companies.

The big trucking companies want to secure a steady supply of cheap labor, and the ATA has spent years lobbying the federal government to loosen regulations in the industry. They’re now pushing for the “DRIVE-Safe Act” in Congress, which would allow 18-year-olds to begin driving trucks across state lines. Right now, drivers must be 21 [Greg Rosalsky, “Is There Really a Truck Driver Shortage?” NPR: Planet Money, 2021.05.25].

Trucking companies can find plenty of workers; they just have a hard time keeping them in rotten working conditions:

The real problem, Spencer says, is not a shortage but retention. According to the ATA’s own statistics, the average annual turnover rate for long-haul truckers at big trucking companies has been greater than 90% for decades. That means, for example, if a company has ten truckers, nine will be gone within a year; or, equivalently, three of their driver positions have to each be refilled three times in a single year because so many new drivers leave within a few months [Rosalsky, 2021.05.25].

The solution to the trucking industry’s labor needs is not to put teenagers in big rigs. The solution is to treat workers right and pay them fairly for the hard work they do.


  1. mike from iowa 2021-05-25

    ATA sounds like Fake Noize, they tend to leave out important context. They say there is a shortage of drivers, they mean a shortage of cheap ATA members can make more profits.

  2. Jake 2021-05-25

    mfi-right on!

  3. Mark Anderson 2021-05-25

    I think all of those truckers give in to their addiction and end up quitting. After sweet jane its hard to truck again.

  4. Porter Lansing 2021-05-25

    I follow this subject because I am a Teamster and previously operated an over the road eighteen wheeler.

    Deregulation lobbyists are insidious and relentless. They got a law passed that allows drivers from Mexico to cross the border with a load and then haul several loads from USA ports to other USA destinations, driving under Mexican regulations, being paid by transnational corporations formerly based in USA.

    In short, USA highways need more safety regulations not fewer.

  5. grudznick 2021-05-25

    Why aren’t the regular Regulation Lobbyists as effective as the insidious and relentless Deregulation Lobbyists? I know why. It’s because the regular Regulation Lobbyists aren’t working hard enough and are being out-insidiousnessed by the Deregulation Lobbyists.

    Working hard and insidiousness is what gets things done in the legislatures. Working harder gets things done in real life.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-05-25

    Grudz, they work harder at pressing money into the the corrupt party and the corrupt politicians. That’s what they do. Working? They pour booze and write checks at meetings. They don’t do a goddamn thing, and you know it.

  7. T 2021-05-25

    There is a shortage I do t care what anyone stats say. Also a retention problem for large companies because they want $100s yet pay pennies. Yes MA clean urine a huge factor, driving records but most of all in my area the ones that retired or quit is because blood alcohol for CDL is .04 or maybe even less over the years I forget. Doesn’t mean if your safe in private car blowing a .05 is safe for some people not if your CDL.
    Mary Janes aren’t problem in SD it’s the alcohol

  8. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-25

    Well…Truck Drivers work hard if spending hundreds of hours driving on interstates and in cities, managing a cargo, and being constantly alert is hard work. It is also murder on your kidneys. Despite our fellow correspondent’s constant yearning for gravy, truck stop food isn’t that good, loaded with calories and artery blockers.People who can provide that service for 20 plus years should be commended. If the labor market is “tight”, the only answer in the free enterprise system is for truck drivers to be better compensated than they are now. Problem solved. Prices at Tractor Supply, Wal Mart, and the feed store go up a couple cents. Doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the product to the market.

  9. T 2021-05-25

    Best wages r west river, ur own semi, hauling grains or gravel . Put in the time go home.
    No benefits but no bs and supplements farm income. Could use 15-20 more drivers and semis in area I work. Trucker shortage also an excuse for higher priced commodities. Truckers don’t c any of that. No trickle down that goes in bigger pockets

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-05-25

    grudznick points out the filthy business of lobbying. i.e. Nobody bribes politicians to do what’s good for America. Only the opposite. Professional lobbyists are losers that can’t become lawyers because they drink all night.

  11. grudznick 2021-05-25

    hear! hear!

  12. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-26

    well…remind me sometime that I need to defend lobbyists but….I’m going to have to think very, very, hard on the subject for a long, long time.

  13. jerry 2021-05-26

    Trains would solve the long haul issue. Then we could use short haul truck drivers to deliver the needs of the people from truck terminals scattered about the country. When I was a kid, physically, that is how it was done. The well paid short haul truckers would be able to go home after an 8 hour day to a good meal and a clean bed. They could also look forward to a pension, a real one, not this 401k crap shoot nonsense.

  14. V 2021-05-26

    I thought they were making up to $80,000 a year plus benefits?
    Yeah Mark, when the blood is tested and pot and alcohol are detected, it’s kind of hard to drive long haul. It’s that way for school bus drivers as well around this part of S.D.
    Trains are the way to go. Why waste this service? Why carry just dirty coal that spills out everywhere? Start carrying lots of products and PEOPLE!!!!

  15. John 2021-05-27

    18?! Only 18?!
    ATA has a failure of imagination.

    ATA should act like the coal companies of last decade, patrolling the halls of high schools offering bonuses & new pick ups for boys to drop out to work the mines. ATA should champion fleets of 16 year old drivers.

    That’s sarcasm ground in reality of labor exploitation.

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