The IRU says the US will need to hire 1m new drivers over the next 15 years © Getty Images
The IRU says the US will need to hire 1m new drivers over the next 15 years © Getty Images

No 'secular shortage' of US truck drivers

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
25 March 2019

Researchers have declared they have found no evidence of a long-term shortage of truck drivers in the US.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said the market for truck drivers was often portrayed as “dysfunctional” with “persistent driver shortages and high levels of firm-level turnover and predicting significant resulting constraints on the supply of motor freight services”.

The BLS said its analysis showed the labour market to be “tight” and there were problems with recruitment and retention but “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”.

“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,” said the report.

“There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”

The BLS said its own data showed in 2017 there were around 1.75m heavy truck drivers in the US and around 878,000 light truck drivers.

The report said trucks were estimated to have carried 61% of the total freight by value transported in the US in 2016, and this activity accounted for an estimated 3.5% of GDP.

“The overall picture is consistent with a market in which labour supply responds to increasing labour demand over time, and a deeper look does not find evidence of a secular shortage,” said the BLS.

According to the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the US will need to hire 1m new drivers in the next 15 years. In the UK the shortage is estimated to be between 45,000-52,000.

The American Trucking Associations said the BLS had misunderstood the industry and the number of barriers to entry, such as age requirements and testing standards.

“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,” it said.

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