ATA Fires Back At “Flawed” New Study Challenging “Driver Shortage”

Washington D.C. – A new study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is igniting a fierce debate over the existence of a so-called “driver shortage.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has long argued the trucking industry is experiencing a significant shortfall of CDL drivers qualified to fill thousands and thousands of open driving positions among truckload carriers. ATA routinely points to data it collects from its member carriers, as well as a plethora of anecdotal evidence, it says points to the existence of such a shortage.

In fact, ATA says its most recent data puts the current driver shortage at approximately 50,000 and expects that number to continue to climb even reaching more than 100,000 within the next decade.

 

Critics argue the driver shortage is merely a myth concocted by large carriers, with chronically high turnover rates, as a means to win support from lawmakers for measures such as lowering the interstate driving age to 18. Recently re-introduced bi-partisan legislation known as the DRIVE-Safe Act would do exactly that.

Well, a new study by BLS has critics of the driver shortage narrative smiling and proponents like ATA firing back.

About The BLS Study

In a lengthy article entitled, “Is the U.S. labor market for truck drivers broken?,” Stephen Burks, a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota Morris, and Kristen Monaco with BLS, dive deep into labor statistics and analyze labor market conditions within the trucking industry.

Their findings indicate 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.

The authors write,

“A shortage is generally alleviated in the short run by price (i.e., wage) increases and in the longer run by the development of new supply in response to higher wages.”

Further, the study takes aim at the notion that anecdotal evidence of difficulty recruiting and retaining drivers proves the existence of a driver shortage. The report says,

“However, economists would not regard high turnover rates and the associated problems of recruiting and retaining drivers in this part of trucking as a long-term shortage. Nor would they call these conditions a “broken market,” except to the extent that one might use that term for a secondary labor market segment, since the high turnover that marks such a segment is an indicator that the jobs in it are unattractive to many potential employees.”

 

Researchers pointed to occupational migration data which reflected the labor market in trucking is not dissimilar to labor markets in other blue-collar industries. Thus, the study concluded,

“As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market, and while it tends to be ‘tight,’ it imposes no constraints on entry into (or exit from) the occupation. There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”

Critics Take A Victory Lap

Naysayer of the so-called driver shortage, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), has been claiming vindication in the wake of the BLS study’s conclusions. In a newly published piece entitled, “Federal report affirms OOIDA’s stance on driver shortage,” Tyson Fisher, journalist for the OOIDA-backed Landline Magazine, writes,

“While ATA has been at the forefront of pushing the “driver shortage” narrative, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has always maintained that the issue is a lack of pay, not drivers.”

In a video published in October 2018, president of OOIDA, Todd Spencer, sought to debunk what he calls the “driver shortage myth.” In the three and a half minute video Spencer essentially argues that if a driver shortage did in fact exist, then wages for truckers would be twice what they are today.

Further, he contends that 400,000 new CDLs are issued each year which far outpaces the need for truck drivers. The problem Spencer says is retention.

“Those that who talk ‘shortage’ are interested in having new people simply because they will pay them a starter wage and they’ll keep their costs down. We see that play out in the turnover numbers. Sometimes people don’t even make it past the first couple of months.”

ATA Fires Back

In the face of intensifying scrutiny challenging the veracity of a driver shortage, ATA’s chief economist Bob Costello is firing back and identifying “flaws” in the BLS study. In a lengthy released statement Costello asserts,

“Unfortunately in their article Mr. Burks and Ms. Monaco demonstrated some basic misunderstandings about the trucking industry generally and how we at ATA and in the industry discuss the driver shortage.”

 

Costello contends ATA has always identified the over-the-road, long-haul segment of the trucking industry as the area where the driver shortage is pervasive. He challenged researchers’ findings based on both the quality and lack of timeliness of their data.

He writes,

“The authors go out of their way to say their data could not tell the difference between drivers in this segment and other drivers – this error is compounded by the fact that some of the data utilized in the analysis is nearly two decades old.”

Costello then argues the driver shortage is perpetuated by a lack of qualified applicants. He contends carriers are routinely forced to reject up to 90% of applicants because they fail to meet at least one of the prerequisites for employment.

He writes,

“Carriers repeatedly say it isn’t that they don’t have enough applicants for their open positions – they do. What they do not have is enough applicants who meet the demanding qualifications to be hired.”

Calling the authors conclusions “ill-found claims,” Costello dismissed the researchers findings by attacking their overall understanding of the trucking industry. Additionally, he contends the study’s own concession about increases in driver wages, while recruiting woes simultaneously persist, serves to undercut the findings.

In summation he writes,

“In addition to the misunderstandings about trucking, the authors’ own concession that wages are going up significantly, as motor carriers are unable to hire quality drivers, undercuts their own conclusions. This alone suggests there is a systemic issue with getting enough labor in the for-hire truckload driver market.”

As both sides of the argument continue to claim vindication, the only thing that is certain is the debate will continue to rage on. Transportation Nation Network will continue to be here to break it all down.

READ the entire BLS report HERE.

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