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Is America Still Facing A Truck Driver Shortage?

Last year it was reported that America was facing an unprecedented truck driver shortage. Industry body the American Trucking Association (ATA) said the country needed an additional 80,000 truckers to keep up with demand, warning that this figure could climb to 160,000 by the year 2030.

This shortage resulted in serious supply chain issues and compounded inflationary pressures already exacerbated by the pandemic. As a result pay went up, with Walmart offering first-time drivers up to $110,000 in salary and other companies offering $10,000 cash bonuses.

According to the ATA, the shortage was brought on by a large number of older truckers retiring, with young people largely unable or uninterested in joining up. The industry body also identified a failure to attract women into the workforce as another contributory factor, with just 7% of truckers being female in 2021.

Critics, on the other hand, pointed to the industry’s high turnover rate as evidence that working conditions need to improve. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job turnover among truckers averaged at 94% between 1995 and 2017. Much of this can be attributed to the long working hours and time spent away from home that truck drivers are expected to deal with, as well as poor median pay for most of this period.

Truck companies say they've been struggling to attract young people and women to the labor force.

Recently, however, there have been signs that the situation is improving, with previously declining trucker numbers levelling off and even growing in recent months.

According to May 2021 figures published by the BLS this March, the number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers grew by 0.5% compared to the previous year – up to 1,903,420 nationwide. Light truck driver numbers also saw an increase of 0.7%, while figures for truck and ship loaders grew by 6.8%.

This uptick is now starting to be felt in the economy, with analysis by showing a peak in rates for the spot freight market in January 2022. This is the section of the market where shipping companies and manufacturers negotiate the individual transactions for each load. Normally the market grows in spring but recent figures have shown prices consistently coming down since the winter, suggesting that the driver shortage is no longer forcing companies to compete so aggressively.

Shipping costs have come down in recent months as backlogs begin to be cleared.

A similar phenomenon can be observed at the country’s ports, where ships are no longer having to wait for long periods to unload their cargo due to a lack of drivers. In January 2021, the number of ships waiting to unload at the Port of Los Angeles stood at 103; in May this year that dropped to just 39. The price of shipping a container has also come down some 20% between September 2021 and March 2022.

These changes have been marginal so far, but with inflation dropping to 8.5% last month the trend is certainly encouraging. If the ATA is to be believed a lot more will have to be done to address the overall industry shortage but for the time being at least the system is holding together.

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