The great supply chain puzzle has a new possible answer: a shortage of truck drivers. A new study from the American Trucking Association (ATA) suggests that there is currently an 80,000 truck driver shortage, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate solution in sight.
There are certainly plenty of things contributing to the current supply chain bottleneck, such as cargo ships being stuck in queues, but the trucking problem is one of the biggest. The trucking industry hauls 72.5% of all freight transported in the U.S. and is often one of the last steps in getting goods onto store shelves and into consumers’ hands.
The shortage of truck drivers has grown by nearly 27% in the last three years, according to the study. Bob Costello, the chief economist for the ATA, says it’s being driven by several factors. There are problems with recruiting and retaining female drivers, drug testing, time spent away from home and family, and the long hours that drivers are asked to do in a single stretch.
Unfortunately, things could actually get worse. Costello estimates that the trucking industry will have to recruit at least 1 million new drivers by 2030 to replace the number of retiring drivers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 231,100 openings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers each year.
Pay rates and vaccine mandates are sticking points
Costello said that because there is no single cause of the driver shortage, there is no single solution. The pay for long-haul drivers ($47,130 in 2020) is continuing to grow, but he feels that rising pay rates alone won't solve the driver shortage.
“Because some drivers will choose to work less at a higher pay rate, negating the impact of the increase,” he said. “The solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes and modifications to shippers’, receivers’ and carriers’ business practices to improve conditions for drivers.”
Of course, like almost everything, there are also pandemic-related issues. The main one in the ATA’s mind is President Biden’s vaccination mandate.
“ATA is committed to giving Americans access to life-saving COVID vaccines,” the organization said. “However, President Biden’s new vaccine mandate targeting certain employers raises a number of serious concerns for our industry and its most vital resource of all—the drivers.”
ATA officials met with the White House earlier this week to make Biden’s team aware that 37% of the current driver base say they would either leave or retire from their jobs because of the mandate.
Drivers being asked to haul more
The short-term prognosis for getting goods trucked from point A to point B doesn’t look good. The ATA’s Truck Tonnage Index increased by 2.4% in September.
“September’s sequential gain was the largest in 2021,” said Costello. “It is good that tonnage rose in September, but it is important to note that this is happening because each truck is hauling more, not from an increase in the amount of equipment operated as contract carriers in the for-hire truckload market continue to shrink from the lack of new trucks and drivers.