Trucking is hugely important to the American economy, and driver shortages present a big problem.
As millions of Americans take to the roads this week to make the trek to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, they will be sharing the highways with thousands and thousands of tractor-trailers. From moving perishable foods to the latest technological products, the trucking industry is easily one of the life bloods of the United States and a quick look at the statistics shows why it’s a critical component to the economy.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, “trucks carry the highest percentage of the weight and value of goods in the United States, accounting for 60.1 and 60.8 percent, respectively, in 2015.” And one in 15 jobs in the country is related to the industry. However, the industry is on the cusp of a sea change.
According to a recent report, 50,000 more drivers are needed by the end of 2017 and that number could more than triple in 10 years. However, with wages continuing to be stagnant (the average salary last year was $41,340) and the nomadic lifestyle unappealing to many potential Millennial recruits, the trucking industry is facing a real near-term crisis.
Like with most issues, it’s all about demographics. Many young men and women who in generations past might have thought about a truck-driving career are steering clear of the profession. This is a worrisome dynamic for the trucking industry considering that the average age of today’s driver is 52.
There are some industry experts who think that driverless trucks are going to be a reality in the very near future so there is nothing to worry about. According to the International Transport Forum, a think tank that operates within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 70% of all trucking jobs could be gone as soon as 2030.
However, driverless trucks aren’t going to be the norm for at least another 10-15 years so a shortage of truck drivers means bad things for the economy. Why is that? When there aren’t enough drivers, supply costs go up, which means that consumer pricing usually goes up as well. In addition, delivery delays on products increase and shortages become more common. None of these results will work well in a society that is now used to having a product delivered in 2-3 days.
These issues can’t be wished away and they have the potential to create some real problems for the country. The trucker shortage is already starting to have a negative impact on business operations. In September, the Chief Economist of the American Trucking Associations stated, “After a period of relatively low turnover, it appears the driver market is tightening again, which coupled with increased demand for freight movement, could rapidly exacerbate the driver shortage.”
Now is the time for action and it’s imperative that government officials and industry stakeholders work together to address the problem. There are numerous solutions that can be implemented, ranging from dropping the minimum age for a CDL license from 21 to 19 to federal and state governments partnering with trucking companies on developing a national recruitment strategy to the elimination of the electronic logging device. These potential solutions, along with many others, are going to need to be implemented if the country is to avert a fairly serious crisis.
It’s way past the time for Congress and the Trump administration to provide the necessary resources to solve this national dilemma. The trucking industry is vital to the health of the nation and it is the backbone of United States economy. All of us have a vested interest in solving this problem because we all purchase or ship goods on a daily basis that are delivered by freight drivers. Only by taking serious action will this national problem get solved.