According to the American Trucking Associations, the lobbying organization for large trucking employers, the US has a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers. This claim has been repeated consistently over the years and has recently been cited by industry groups in favor of a bill in Congress to lower the commercial driver’s license age requirement from 21 to 18.
But truck drivers are quick to highlight the low pay, poor treatment and tough working conditions they endure throughout the industry as prevailing issues for employers who claim to have trouble finding and retaining enough drivers.
“The industry has recycled this narrative about every three months for over 20 years. There is no truck driver shortage,” said Desiree Wood, the president of Real Women in Trucking. “It is indeed a pay shortage and work conditions issue.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics published an article in March 2019 discussing the widespread and constant claims of labor shortages in the trucking industry, but found that if wages rise in the industry, any long-term labor shortages would be improved. “As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market,” the report concluded.
Nearly 2 million Americans work as truck drivers, a rate that has steadily increased over the years from about 1.57 million truck drivers in 2000. States issue more than 450,000 commercial driver’s licenses per year.
While more Americans are working as truck drivers, wages have drastically declined since the passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the US trucking industry.
When adjusted for inflation, median wages for truck drivers in 1980 were about $110,000 annually. In 2020, median annual wages for truck drivers were $47,130. Nearly 40% of US truck drivers were covered by union contracts in 1983, which dropped to 10.1% in 2020.
Many trucking companies also misclassify drivers as independent contractors, shifting overhead costs on to workers and burdening them with massive amounts of debt for their vehicles, gas and fees.
Billy Randel, chief organizer of Truckers Movement for Justice, explained that most truck drivers work 60 to 70 hours a week without overtime pay, as many of the hours are unpaid wait times, from waiting to load and unload, to department of transportation inspections, or having to clean out trailers before picking up a new load.
“We’re fed up and we’re tired of having no voice and we’re the power in the industry. Nothing moves without us,” said Randel. “There are too many drivers out here who are homeless and they stay on the road because they have no place to live. There are too many drivers that actually qualify for federal food-stamp assistance. We want to end the sharecropping outright, and take back the power drivers once had when we were organized many decades ago.”