America’s e-commerce addiction and a tight labor market are contributing to strong wage growth for truck drivers.
Wages for U.S. truckers, rising for several years, took their biggest jump yet in the past 12 months. Since August 2016, median annual base pay jumped 5.7 percent, to $52,079, according to a report published Tuesday by jobs site Glassdoor.
The increase gave truckers a bigger percentage pay bump than almost any other type of employee during the time period. Baristas and insurance agents joined truckers as workers with the highest pay increases, according to Glassdoor. Its data is based on information from three million salaries submitted anonymously to the site.
By contrast, median annual base pay grew 2 percent for all U.S. workers over the past year, according to the site.
Trucking traffic increases created by U.S. consumers shopping online and a job market operating at near capacity are pressuring carriers to raise driver wages, according to economists.
As online commerce has expanded, more goods are moving through ports and the nation's logistics network.
“Trucks drivers play a key role in this growth,” said Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain told Trucks.com. “Many employers in the transportation world are reporting shortages of qualified and licensed drivers.”
Developments in autonomous truck technology could affect trucker jobs and wages in the future. But “it’s not happening today,” he said in remarks issued with the jobs report.
Despite the increase, trucker pay is still lower today relative to what it was 40 years ago, said Michael Belzer, an associate professor of economics at Wayne State University in Detroit and a long-time analyst of trucking transportation industry pay.
“It is a little tricky to know for sure because truck driver working hours are so unreliably reported,” Belzer said.
If wages are increasing, it’s a sign that carriers cannot continue to operate without paying more, Belzer said.
“It is really hard to get people otherwise, so with the current low level of unemployment potential drivers are being drawn back into the labor market and this may explain some higher pay,” he said.
The country’s current 4.3 percent unemployment rate marks a 16-year low, and has remained below 5 percent since May 2016, well within the band economists use to register full employment.
Glassdoor data on driver pay differs from BLS’ annual salary outlook for trucker jobs. Median annual pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $41,340, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, issued in May 2016.
BLS’ statistics are different because they include full- and part-time workers and are based on a representative survey of households, and different occupation categories, Chamberlain said. By contrast, Glassdoor’s data comes from salaries for full-time workers only, and does not include tips, bonuses or other cash compensation, he said. Glassdoor also aggregates raw job titles into groupings for comparison purposes in a way that’s not directly comparable to BLS occupation data, he said.
Truck drivers’ median annual base pay has climbed steadily from $46,573 in April 2013, when Glassdoor began tracking the segment.
Driver pay constitutes one of trucking carriers’ highest operating costs. The American Trucking Associations estimates labor costs including driver pay equal about 40 percent of truck-load carriers’ annual revenue and 60 percent to 65 percent of revenue for less-than truckload or LTL, carriers.
The association plans to issue its own report on driver pay later this year, according to Jeremy Kirkpatrick, an ATA spokesman.