Wanted: 20,000 truck drivers

June 1, 2005
The long-haul, heavy-duty truck transportation industry in the United States is experiencing a national shortage of 20,000 truck drivers, the American

The long-haul, heavy-duty truck transportation industry in the United States is experiencing a national shortage of 20,000 truck drivers, the American Trucking Associations reported in its US Truck Driver Shortage: Analysis and Forecasts.

A report on the present and future of the long-haul truck driver pool, the forecast predicts the shortage of long-haul truck drivers will increase to 111,000 by 2014 if current demographic trends stay their course and if the overall labor force continues to grow at a slower pace.

“The driver market is the tightest it has been in 20 years,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer.

Of the 3.4 million truck drivers on the road, 1.3 million are long-haul truckers, the driver segment most severely impacted by the shortage. Although the current driver shortage is set at 20,000 drivers, it seems larger to the industry because of a high degree of driver “churning,” or moving from carrier to carrier. Large truckload carriers reported an average annual turnover of 121% in 2004.

If current demographic trends continue, the supply of new long-haul heavy truck drivers will grow at an annual rate of just 1.6% in the next decade. But Global Insight, the economic consulting firm conducting the study for ATA, predicts over the next 10 years, economic growth will generate a need for a 2.2% average annual increase in long-haul heavy truck drivers, or 320,000 jobs overall.

Another 219,000 must be found to replace drivers 55 and older who will retire in the next decade, putting total expansion and replacement hiring needs at 539,000, or an average of 54,000 new drivers per year for the next decade.

Scores of drivers exited the long-haul trucking industry after average weekly earnings fell 9% below average construction earnings in the 2000 recession. Driver wages have since failed to regain pre-2000 levels when they averaged 6% to 7% higher than construction wages. Long-haul drivers also cited extended periods away from home and unpredictable schedules as reasons for transitioning to other occupations.

The trucking industry is hauling more freight than ever. Total annual tonnage hauled by truck is expected to increase to 13 billion tons by 2016 from 9.8 billion tons in 2004.

ATA said finding drivers will grow more difficult in coming years as adverse demographic trends limit the size of the pool of workers that traditionally fill truck driving jobs. For example, one-fifth of all heavy-duty truck drivers are 55 or older. Replacements must be found for nearly all of these because only a small fraction of heavy-duty truck drivers work past 65. The ability to replace these drivers will be further constrained by insufficient growth of new entrants into the labor force, which is expected to decelerate after 2007 from a 1.4% annual pace to only 0.5% growth in 2014. More importantly, the number of men ages 35 to 54, which make up the primary driver demographic, will be flat or declining over the next 10 years.

To increase the nation's driver pool, the industry will need to draw upon a larger percentage of women and minorities. Women currently represent 5% of truck drivers. African-Americans represent 11.7% of long-haul drivers, and Hispanics total 9.7% of the long-haul driving sector.