It’s been taken as fact for many years that there is a shortage of truck drivers in the United States. Companies report problems covering their loads and even the American Trucking Associations announced that there will be a shortage of 174,000 drivers by 2026 if the current climate continues. Here are just a few of the logical reasons many believe there is a driver shortage.
For instance, the growth in popularity of e-commerce ordering has increased the frequency of shipments, especially for the final mile. Trends like “the Amazon Effect” have warped customer expectations to the point that most people expect their orders in just a few days, meaning shippers need to work hard to position orders to arrive in time. It’s also understood that Millennials aren’t replacing Baby Boomer truckers at a swift enough rate as the older generation enters retiring age. All of these reasons couple together to paint a picture of a truck driver shortage.
A recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is questioning this assumption. The study released in March 2019 questions whether the U.S. labor market for truck drivers is really broken. According to the study, discussion of a supposed driver shortage has been happening in the industry on and off since the late 1980s. They posit that real disequilibrium in a specific job market can only be sustained long-term if there is a systemic issue.
“This disequilibrium suggests either some unusual and persistent causal factor at work, such as a skills mismatch or a regulatory constraint preventing workers from entering employment or changing occupations, or a misapplication of economic terminology in describing the business situation.”
In layman’s terms, there needs to be some external factor making it impossible for enough drivers to be hired. Otherwise, as the study suggests, the market would naturally correct itself with rising wages and benefits. They suggest that since there are no causal factors preventing entry into the truck driving job market, there cannot be a driver shortage.
If you’ve ever taken an Economics course, you’ve probably come across the Law of Supply and Demand. This theory is generally used when discussing markets for purchased goods but is also relevant when discussing jobs. “The correlation between price and how much of a good or service is supplied to the market is known as the supply relationship. Price, therefore, is a reflection of supply and demand.” In this case, price = drivers’ salaries.
According to the study, if there is a real need for a service, prices will rise to bring the market back to equilibrium. There were, however, “indicators suggesting that the market for truck drivers has been tight over the period from 2003 through 2017: wages in the occupation have been strong relative to those in similar occupations…” To put it simply, there has been a shortage of drivers, but the market rebalances itself with adjusted wages to entice new talent to the industry.
Even though it may be difficult for companies who need to ship product to find drivers, in the end, they are finding enough. Somehow products are being delivered and sellers in every industry continue to be able to do business. If this is all true, the argument could be made that the availability of drivers is tight and getting tighter, but not at the point yet where vast changes in salaries take effect to bring the industry back to equilibrium.