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Tales of Trucker Shortage Drive Real Surge in Driver Numbers, Decrease in Freight Rates

Back in April 2021, I mentioned that low pay might have a lot to do with the apparent shortage of truckers. Various courses noted then that the trucking industry’s real problem was retention and that the driver shortage was just a fiction of trucking lobbyists angling for deregulation.

However fictitious, the talk of a driver shortage, plus economic opportunity, sparked a near doubling of registered truckers:

In June 2020, there were 241,835 registered for-hire carriers with a gross vehicle rate of 10,000 pounds and over, according to DAT’s data. By July 2023, there were 475,371, a jump of 96%.

A few things happened to create the rush of drivers. As global demand for goods cratered in early 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, the price of diesel plummeted, making it more affordable to run a trucking business. Government loans helped trucking companies survive the slowdown, and then, by mid-2020, as Americans started buying goods again, freight rates started climbing. Companies paying $1.85 a mile in early 2020 were paying $3.10 a mile by late 2021, [DAT Freight and Analytics analyst Dean] Croke says [Alana Samuels, “The Trucking Bubble Has Burst,” Time, 2023.09.13].

The American Journal of Transportation maintains that the driver shortage continues, even though the surge of drivers who have entered the market since the pandemic is driving down rates and driver profits:

Rates started plummeting in 2022, soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. At the same time, the price of diesel skyrocketed.

Today, almost everyone in the “spot market”—drivers who aren’t contracted with a particular company, and thus can’t add a fuel surcharge—is struggling. (The spot market makes up about 15% of truckers.) The flood of drivers into the market has now created a surfeit of drivers who brokers and trucking companies can play off one another, driving rates lower and lower [Samuels, 2023.09.13].

The drivers are out there; you just have to pay them a wage that makes naps at Secretary Pete’s new rest-stop parking spots worth the time away from home.


  1. Jake Kammerer 2023-09-16 02:18

    Paying a fair wage has never been a common trait in South Dakota. Unions advocating such need are castigated “like in California” whenever
    the subject comes up.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2023-09-17 20:28

    It’s a very interesting economic phenomena. I end up in “trucker motels” once in a while on my way to sunnier climes during the winter. a real cross section of America finds work in that profession and its a short straw to draw. But…you can’t travel that much back and forth across America with developing an interesting perspective on the country and many truckers are interesting conversationalists. They are “the pros of the road”. The further South you go, the more diverse and beat up the Trucks and the Truckers are.

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