Trucker Shortage or Driver Pay Shortage: Which is it?

July 25, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

The American Trucking Associations put out another edition of its periodic truck driver shortage report this week, once again warning of dire consequences for the trucking industry.

The nation is short more than 60,000 drivers, and the deficit is going to grow, the ATA says. Trucking moves about $700 billion of cargo in the U.S. annually. Labor shortages in the industry could hurt economic growth.

The report repeats its description of a market dynamic that is years old. Most people just don’t want to drive trucks. It’s almost impossible to get young people into the industry.

Those facts are no surprise. Trucking has structural issues. Few people want to drive all day in a world increasingly beset by heavy traffic and driver distractions. Who wants to spend long hours at work, far from home and family? A federal government initiative to cut down on truckers exceeding their daily driving-time limits is good for safety but reduces driver earnings. The industry has a bad reputation. How many moms aspire for their children to grow up and become truckers?

But the driver shortage drumbeat also is a bit like crying wolf.

Most economists say the labor imbalance has an easy solution: higher pay.  Anyone remember the nursing shortage? Better pay and working conditions seem to have cured that. Anyone talking about a coder shortage? No. Instead, companies complain about how much they have to pay to attract qualified coders.

All the trucking industry has to do is make pay and working conditions good enough to drag workers from other industries.

Drivers seem to understand that. They don’t have a big lobbying group like the ATA, but they certainly have opinions. Here are two:

Is there really a shortage? The short answer is there is not now, nor has there ever been, a truck driver shortage. However, there certainly is a shortage of carriers willing to pay enough to attract drivers and improve the workplace culture to retain them.

“Over the past 11 years the ATA has put out these media blitz campaigns to claim there is a critical truck driver shortage. It is in turn a call for more student truck drivers who are poorly trained, work for very cheap and are generally churned through the system so quickly they are likely not retained past one year.

“What we should be talking about is how the turnover rate in truck driver training fleets can be so high, nearly double the industry average of about 97 percent, according to court documents from two different training fleets. The industry ignores this safety issue. You cannot produce a qualified driver in such a failed system of training. Furthermore, those who do make it past one year often find the long, unpaid work hours and living conditions do not justify doing the work. We are chasing our tails to continue listening to what the ATA has to say about the mythical driver shortage.


  • Desiree Ann Wood, a trucker and president of Real Women in Trucking Inc.

There always have been enough new drivers entering the industry. However, there is a deficiency on the part of the carriers to retain these drivers.

The fact that there is not a driver shortage can be confirmed by the assessment in the recent Department of Labor statistic labor review, which in so many words stated that long hours and insufficient wages are a major reason for drivers not being retained.

Driver wages do not reflect the skills, sacrifices and long hours which drivers experience and possess. You can’t be paid by the mile and regulated by a clock.

As long as drivers are continued to be paid for the amount of pieces they can produce only, and not for all their time, which far exceeds the average U.S. employee work hour week, there will be an industry-induced churn resulting in the perceived driver shortage.

A near 100 percent turnover rate reflects a severe problem within trucking. However, rather than address this, the industry would rather bring in more drivers to keep up with the continuous turnover. The industry doesn’t address the inability to retain their drivers.

The industry has refused to address the problem creating the perceived driver shortage. It should be paying drivers for their time, not just their miles driven. If they did this, the turnover rate would decline, retention would rise, and there would no longer be a reason to declare driver shortage.

The driver shortage will be resolved only when drivers receive wages which demonstrate a fair reflection of their skill, sacrifice and long hours, and they are valued for all their time.

In my opinion, this is not what trucking wants, however. They want to continue to bring in more drivers at low wages and keep the churn going. This is clearly demonstrated by their desire to bring in 18-year-olds to drive over-the-road interstate. It’s just one more naive and vulnerable segment to exploit.

  • Allen Smith, owner of Truth About Trucking LLC and

 Editor’s note: Jerry Hirsch is editor-in-chief of welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns. Contact

Jerry Hirsch July 24, 2019
A new report from The American Trucking Associations says the industry needed 60,800 more drivers at the end of 2018 to meet freight demands.

32 Responses

  1. Jeromy

    The word skill keeps coming up. Truckers are considered unskilled workers according to the governments definition of skilled. This needs to change. Truckers have to go to school to get their license.That in itself means they get special training. That is learning a skill. If it requires no skill, why is it people can’t just hop in a truck and operate it? There are also other skills required outside of driving. The “unskilled” label is the main reason trucking companies use to keep pay low.

    • Susan OConnor

      I also believe lifting the medical part as well. There is alot of good drivers that been driving for years that was disqualified for medical reasoning like ICD which is the on the same lines as a pass maker. I reather have someone under medical next beside me then some that is over weight, screaming medical problems that come with the weight problems. Plus alot of these disqualified drivers would love too be back in a truck. I feel as along as they keep all medical appointments and follow up with a medical doctor they should be aloud too drive again.

    • TAM

      There is a total Injustice in the trucking industry and it’s sickening that the government can care less. Why are there labor laws in every other industry except trucking? Why is it ok for us to operate heavy machinery 70 hours a week but it is illegal to sit at a desk for more than 40? Why is there so much regulation in the name of safety but the laws itself make the industry unsafe? Easy answer, we are looked upon as cattle. We don’t matter because we are meant to provide the economy with what it needs to survive and then we are slaughtered. Then new fresh meat are brought in to take our place like we never existed. Then all of the sudden there is a shortage. People ask why is there nothing being done about this Injustice? Too many pockets are being lined by the mega carriers to put these laws into place to keep things just how they want it. Trying to bring 18 year olds into the industry is another shameful attempt to bring more unsafe driver’s into the industry in order to bring new regulation in and say there are too many truck accidents. Let’s be frank. The goal for the maga carriers is to have autonomous trucks so they don’t have to pay wages and insurance for driver’s. And these unskilled drivers being hired by the mega carriers with little to no real training are helping that happen. They are the tool to their demise.

    • 18again

      At the end of the day the big companies have all the real contracts and are meeting the contract terms. The drivers will always be the only loosers until a real stand is taken buy the drivers as a whole in my opinion when the true shortage reaches around 100,000+ then and only then will they even think about changing their ways.

  2. Jerry

    After reading this article and having been in the trucking industry since 1973, I know all too well how poorly drivers are paid and treated by dispatch and management. I can’t put a number of times I was told to keep moving even after telling them I’m tired and out of hours. My pay was a percentage of what the load paid. How can you know what your check will be being out 7-21 days needing to eat, shower, wash your clothes. Companies fail to understand what it’s like to drive and have personal needs while out yet pay the bills and feed you family at home. I’ve been out there 30 years and have had many hardships.

    I took time off from driving and studied and obtained a degree in Transportation Logistics and worked for a trucking firm as an orientation instructor. Before retirement I worked with the company to listen to the drivers about what expenses they had, the time out didn’t match the pay to pay bills and feed the family.

    I retired in 2013 with a clean driving record, no tickets or accidents and 3.75 million miles after driving for 30 long years and 10 years as an orientation instructor.

    • Stephen

      Most truck drivers in Canada are doing other jobs that pay more. In Ontario Canada some private companies pay $26.00 to $34.00 per hour or the same as transit bus drivers plus overtime. People are lined up to work for these companies. Other companies are paying $21.00 cd to a corporate account with no benefits .These same companies pay 53 to 60 cents cd per mile or 40 to 46 cents U S per mile with one to 3 hours free at the dock. Many of these companies belong to our A T A known as the C.T.A or the O. T .A in Ontario Canada. Many of these companies companies complain when our federal government fines them for underpaid drivers. The large warehouses in Canada complain when a truck leaves their warehouse with no hours and gets in a accident and the courts ordered the warehouse to pay the cost medical care of the injured people.

      • Chris

        Working 70 hours an week make $700 =less then mimun pays be there done that ..if the carrier give you bonuses run away ahhhh

    • Christopher

      Everything stated is true on the money and or fact. Jimmy Carter did this trucking and someone need too fix it

      • Matt Risner

        This article nails it! I believe truck drivers are not paid or compensated enough 4 there sacrifices I’ve been driving 2 years now and am starting to consider different line of work due to all the everyday struggles I deal with, dot regulations have become to strict along with company dispatch that doesn’t really care where there employ is being sent or how much they make. Lack of parking facilities along with increased detention time at shipping and receiving ,along with never being able to be at my own home or around family is 8 or 900 dollars a week worth thT?

  3. Yote Anders

    lets see, Roadrunner just laid off 450 drivers in the dry van division. Somehow it seems if there were a true “shortage” they would have moved those drivers to another division where they are needed. The driver shortage is a myth. It’s like driving over a cliff and saying there is a road shortage. treat drivers with respect, get them home when they ask, and pay them right. how hard can that be?

    • Ronald G Poor

      I have been trucking since 1972, fit and pass all regulations and physical with 40 years experience in All types and trailers, yet tho it is illegal, I get turned down by insurance companies due to my Age, even with a perfect driving record. I believe the ATA uses shortages just to bring in drivers from other countries on a work permit at lower wages. So the ATA is for Big business NOT the TRUCKING INDUSTRY.

  4. Jon-michael Casey

    No, it’s a business tactic , flood the market with driver rates go down. Pretty evil stuff. If there was a shortage loads would paying great. They are not. Common sense. I’m a truck driver because my tongue isnt split in the middle like business men and women!

  5. Chris

    All big carriers offer you big bonus ($5000-10,000)(bones the dumb dog keeping on chasing it won’t never reaches its (bones)once him or her almost reaches into the carrier will cutting back you miles. Why’s dont the carrier just gives us $5000-$10,000 upfronts first we talkings about they’ll making millions of dollars annually from DRIVERS driving for company for 3 ..owner operator passes 18 a plus away while you’re still young no retirement no pension dead ended jobs be homeless running from one state to the next state wife and kids will packed up leaves you fxck sign on the door while you’re get home…RUNS AWAY…RUN FOREST RUN….

  6. Cutter

    Lack of skills, lack of respect for more experienced drivers and an “all about me” attitude is severely harming the the public’s respect for truckers. Once upon a time, the “knight if the riad” were respected and looked upon as men who were always willing to help motorist stranded/broke down. Now, they dont even help each other. I have been doing this since 1973. MANY CHANGES! Very few few if the benefit the driver. Mist are aimed at benefitting the big companies. The ATA has NEVER been about the driver or gus welfare. NEVER!! Not only is pay a major issue, but also the perspective of drivers doing their job, safely, learning/increasing their job skills and respecting every other vehicle on the road. It is NOT all about you. If the drivers dont wake up to the fact that we are in trouble, as an industry, and band together, it will not get any better. Majority of the companies are small. 25 or less trucks. Doing it “right”! Not hauling cheap freight. Paying better wages, better equipment and retaining older/experienced drivers. Someday, maybe, the big companies will have no choice but to fall in line. The ATA need to go away and let the industry heal itself. That can be done. We all just have to work together to accomplish that goal. Gain back our respect from the public. Respect each other. Dont be the idiot road hog or tailgater. Get rufmd of the E-log B S. Let the drive control their on day, not some dispatcher pushing them. We(drivers) can be a force to fix the trucking problems. Jut have to have the numbers to voice their concerns to their companies and be persistent. Dont give up, and..

  7. Shannon

    After reading this article I’ve decided to put my experience in.
    The transportation industry has several fall backs, number 1 is companies not paying an hourly wage and number 2 companies not being required to pay overtime on that hourly wage. You change these two things and people will be knocking your down to work but companies aren’t willing to pay a good wage for the sacrifices being made it’s not an 8 hour a day job it’s 10-12–14 hours a day it’s a rough life and then to be underpaid drivers keeping looking for better opportunities and there are very few companies that pay like this even the ltl industry pays good hourly but avoids overtime pay making feel undervalued and unappreciated the companies complain but they are ones that have the power to change the industry us drivers been fighting for years for this will little to be heard or changed !

    • Lukaru

      The Time to Stand Together and STRIKE is Long Overdue No More Excuses,Period. FOR ALL THE BS WE PUT UP WITH,WE DESERVE MUCH BETTER.Seriously Folks,Stand Together…Shut em Down For a Week and See How Quick Things Change For Us. Like I Said,NO MORE EXCUSES…

  8. Larry P.

    The reason is most of the industry is non Union now unlike the 70s when people were flocking to a driving and dock position. The Teamsters has declined in the last 20 years thanks to people thinking they can make more on there own. Well obviously we this isn’t the case. What I didn’t see mentioned in this article is the cost of health insurance taken out of a already low paycheck so people are being left with next to nothing. I’ve been a Teamster for six years and my life, money, and quality of work environment has improved tremendously. I’ll leave you with this I grossed 3550 dollars last week, paid zero to insurance( because I get it for free) and drove around 2020 freightliner doing it. We dont have a pay problem we drivers who uneducated about what a Union can do for them problem

  9. Bobby

    There are companies out there that exploit drivers that can’t find a job driving for one reason or another( previous accident, incarnation etc.) . They pay low wages, and are constantly going through drivers like a hot knife through butter. They disguise team driving as training. A brand new driver is given 150 hours behind the wheel, and an experienced driver with an insignificant accident or violation is made to do 240 hours of “training”. The experienced drivers become disillusioned and quickly quit leaving these companies openings to churn out more drivers who will eventually quit.

  10. Cali

    The biggest problems in the trucking industry isn’t a lack of drivers. It’s a lack of training, poor pay scale, laws and oversight in the industry that normally cripples the driver . Not enough down time, unreasonable living conditions, lack of access to basic supplies, in most cases the damage to the body and mind are neglected by both the industry and government. I have tons more to say just seems pointless!

  11. Trid

    Amen Desiree!! I especially like your comment paying drivers by the mile when we are governed by a clock.

  12. Pat

    Hi I have been a member of this community for 37 yrs. Before elog we just went out and did what had to be done. Now with elog the companies still want us to just go out and do what has to be done. Sorry it can’t work that way. I have no flexibility with the elog. We are putting new drivers in equipment and they are being told drive 8hrs take a half hour break finish day out and we really don’t care about which off ramp you park on just use up your hrs. It’s not worth it to be out here anymore. Love the people I meet and the industry. But.

  13. Floodrod359

    Work 100 hours a week log 70 hours a week get paid for 40 hours a week what a deal. ATA = against truckers always. With the rates in the toilet and Amazon trying to take over the middle mile what else could possible go wrong?

  14. John

    As a truck driver myself, I can
    confirm this is EXACTLY the problem with trucking companies and this article is spot on correct! You get what you pay for and the amount of current pay most drivers are getting is not worth the work & sacrifice they are giving in return to these companies, especially the over-the-road drivers. If the consumer, shipper or any other entity has to pay more for these increased wages, so be it.

  15. Kevin Patterson

    How is it that laws do not apply to trucking companies? If you drive a truck you work countless hours for free? Also, they do not have to follow federal laws of overtime, or any laws regarding pay? Also if your OTR you will work over your HOS. If not you will either make no $$ or be let go. The warehouses are totally apathetic to a drivers HOS, they all say “Safety” , but make you leave and violate HOS. Quote “we don’t want the liability of you parked here”; safety be damned.

  16. Jerry

    I agree on much said. BUT when, where, and how will all this get implemented. It just continues, so my take is is its like the movie Groundhog Day, it just repeats itself over n over n over daily, weekly and yearly…

  17. Michael King

    In order to keep and retain drivers is clearly up to the carrier. Companies need to reavuate there bottom line. I have seen this first hand. Drivers take on a huge responsibility. Moving 80 thousand pounds of freight down the highway is dangerous. Why not pay them by the hour offer them full benefits, take care of them and there families while he or she is away running loads for a company. I myself and my company will do just that. I want drivers to be safe, I want their families taken care of in fact if this is done then and only then will you get top notch drivers who will be glad to work for you. It’s been long know that Companies always look at the bottom line. Therefore putting drivers and others in danger. This will not happen with our company. We don’t all need to be multimillionaire to survive in this world. All we want is to be able to live comfortably and that includes our employees.
    Michael King
    CP Logistics N.A

  18. Jason

    I am one of those people that actually enjoys being on the road. However I got out of the industry years ago because of low pay. I see what trucking companies offer today and I shake my head. Its essentially the same pay I made in the 80’s almost 40 years ago.

  19. Phillip

    As a “professional” driver im still mystified that no one has the kahaunas to tell the truth. The government went to great lies to cram the eld down our throat and now the truth cant be denied, that is drivers are spending numerous hours getting loaded and unloaded and not being paid. This is the real problem, not a “driver shortage”. Id like to see any industry tell their workes they have to be on the job 70 hours and only get paid for about 35 or 40 of those hours. Ill bet there would be “worker shortages” in other industries as well.

  20. Mr.Ball

    No dash cams period. Ever. Inward, outward or up the wazoo. We need what little privacy is available. Not desk jockey critics and insurance co. scams

  21. Ray

    If you pay fair and competitive wages in any industry you shouldn’t have shortage of people willing to work.


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