New ATA Study Puts Controversial “Driver Shortage” Debate Back In Spotlight

Arlington, VA – A newly released study published by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) is putting the debate over the existence of a truck driver shortage back in the spotlight.

ATA’s annual study to determine the severity of the intensely debated “driver shortage” was released on Wednesday.

Researchers examined demographic driver data, population growth by age data, tractor counts, and projected economic and industry growth information to model and forecast their findings.

 

In 2018, ATA concluded the industry was short 60,800 drivers, which was up nearly 20% from 2017’s figure of 50,700.

Further, researchers forecast that number could grow to 160,000 by 2028, if current trends hold.

Additionally, the study points out that for-hire truckload carriers offering over-the-road driving positions are feeling the brunt of the shortage.


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A key reason for this, the study asserts, is the lack of  “qualified” driver applicants.

The report states:

Many carriers have strict hiring criteria based on driving history, experience, and other factors. As a result, despite receiving applications for employment, motor carriers are finding few eligible candidates, which is a quality issue.

According to a 2015 ATA study, 88% of fleets said they were getting enough applicants, but many were simply not qualified.

 

Researchers also contend:

There is no reason to believe that this situation has improved since 2015.

Causation

In addition to lacking “qualified” driver applicants, ATA’s study tackles other primary contributing factors it asserts is creating the shortfall of truck drivers.

1. Demographics, Age: ATA points to the aging workforce as the median age for over-the-road truck drivers is now 46.

In comparison, the median age for all U.S. workers is 42.

2. Demographics, Gender: ATA’s study calls the female workforce an “untapped market.”

Females make up nearly 47% of all U.S. workers, yet only comprise 6.6% of all truck drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

ATA’s findings conclude “the share of female drivers has remained fairly stagnant, between 4.5% and 6.6% since 2000.”

 

3. Lifestyle: ATA researchers say the demanding “lifestyle” a career in trucking requires is keeping many from getting behind-the-wheel.

The report points out that an over-the-road driving job is “a lifestyle that does not fit with everyone’s desires or needs.”

4. More Job Alternatives Available: Citing the historically low unemployment rate across certain U.S. demographics, ATA argues competition in the marketplace for employees has squeezed the trucking industry.

A fertile recruiting ground for the trucking industry has long been the construction industry, but ATA asserts recent U.S. economic improvement has made finding new drivers from this pool more challenging.

The report states:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the construction industry has increased payrolls by nearly 1.4 million over the last five years. Most construction jobs are local and don’t require travel as extensive as truck driving.

 

5. Regulations: The study also contends tightening of certain regulations such as the hours-of-service rules put increasing pressure on carriers to meet the demands of their customers.

ATA argues such regulations serve to “exacerbate the driver shortage as it requires more trucks, and more drivers, to move the same amount of freight.”

Solutions

While the study is quick to point out the complexity of the issues surrounding the “driver shortage,” and that solving it will require a host of measures, ATA does put forward actions it believes is essential.

Among ATA’s policy prescriptions are increasing driver pay, providing more at-home time, improving driver image, transitioning military personnel to truck driving careers, and better treatment of drivers by shippers and receivers such as reducing detention time.

The study also argues the need to reduce the interstate commercial driving age from 21 to 18 years of age.

ATA is a strong advocate for newly re-introduced legislation known as the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Safe Act which would do just that.

 

The DRIVE Safe Act is in peril right now as some lawmakers believe it is hanging by a thread.

See more of Transportation Nation Network’s (TNN) reporting on this HERE.


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Debate

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.

In March, a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ignited a fierce debate over the existence of the so-called “driver shortage.”

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.

 

ATA wasted no time in firing back.

Calling the authors conclusions “ill-found claims,” ATA Chief Economist Bob 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.

To read more of TNN’s coverage on this, click HERE.

To read ATA’s complete study, click HERE.

 


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