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The shortage of truck drivers in the U.S.

By Aislinn Niimi
web posted October 8, 2018

Due to the booming economy, the demand for truck drivers to move goods across the country has grown, far outpacing the supply of truck drivers.  When demand exceeds supply, shortages occur, and at the end of last year, the shortage of truck drivers totaled 51,000, a record number.  Companies have to choose between cutting shipments or paying high prices (sometimes double the normal rates).  Due to the higher shipping costs, several companies, including Amazon and General Mills, have raised the prices of their goods.  68% of all freight is moved on U.S. highways, and the economy cannot continue to grow if goods are not able to be moved across the country.

One of the causes of the shortage is the aging population and the failure to recruit new drivers.  Just 20% of truck drivers are in the 20-34 age range.  Companies are trying to appeal to the younger generation, but are finding it difficult, even with pay raises and bonuses, due to the long hours and weeks at a time on the road that trucking requires.        

Federal rules currently prohibit those under 21 from driving trucks across state lines, and one solution being considered is lowering the driving age to those under 21.  The Trump administration has introduced a pilot program that will recruit 200 drivers under the age of 21 from the National Guard and collect data on their driving to compare it to the driving records of other new drivers between the ages of 21 and 24.  Many people believe lowering the driving age would be helpful, as they believe there is a missed opportunity to recruit new drivers after they had graduated from high school.  In a New York Times article, Bob Costello, a chief economist of the American Trucking Associations, said, “If you are graduating from high school and you are not going into the military, you are not going to college, for all practical purposes, you can’t go into trucking because you have to be at least 21 to drive interstate freight.  You’re not going to sit around and twiddle your thumbs.”  Others, however, are concerned about the safety of letting young, inexperienced drivers drive trucks across state lines. 

Whenever the truck driver shortage is discussed, the use of autonomous vehicles always pops up.  There are people who see this as the future of truck driving and the solution to solving the shortage.  While this is a possible outcome, it will be many years before autonomous vehicles are able to be implemented on the road.  

My aunt is a truck driver with 14 years of experience.  She is concerned that putting inexperienced drivers behind the wheel puts safety at risk.  Already the standards have been lowered: drivers used to be required to have 2 years of training, now only 6 months is required.  She says that the shortage has caused wages to go up and has given drivers more flexibility (the median salary for truckers increased 15 percent from 2013 to 2017).  As shipping rates have gone up, companies are reporting that the higher costs are cutting into their profits.  The cost of transporting a "dry good" that doesn’t require refrigeration has risen 40% since last year. 

The shortage is predicted to continue and even get worse, which is not good news for the economy.  An analyst of the trucking industry, Donald Broughton, has some grave predictions, should the shortage continue: “If there is a 10 percent increase in transportation costs, that gives you a 1 percent increase in inflation for the broader economy.”  The shortage of truck drivers in the United States is a big problem and one with the potential to affect the entire economy.  ESR

¬†Aislinn Niimi is a homeschooled high school student taking AP Macroeconomics. ¬© 2018 Aislinn Niimi

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