America’s trucker shortage still at critical levels in spite of bullish economy forecasts
In his electoral campaign US President Donald Trump promised to make America great again. Well, whatever you may think about his tactics, particularly with regard to foreign trade and relations, the indicators are that the US economy is in robust good health and likely to remain so. The key indicator is the gross domestic product forecast, which measures the nation’s production output. Analysts predict that GDP will continue to rise by between two and three percent over the next few years. Good news, but will the transportation sector be able to cope with the steady rise in manufactured products?
The crux of the problem lies within the trucking sector. Specifically, with the continuing shortage of drivers. This is not a new issue. I last wrote about it around a year ago and nothing has changed. At the end of last year, studies showed that the driver deficit was almost 51,000. That’s a huge number, even for a country as large as the US. Worse, the average age of an American truck driver today is 55. What happens in ten years time when these guys start to retire?
Young people today are apparently not interested in becoming truck drivers. Readers of my age will undoubtedly remember those Hollywood movies, starring actors such as Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, which painted a glamorous picture of life on the open road. A whole new version of slang emerged as drivers spoke to each other on CB radio using terms such as smokey bear, Evel Knievel, county mountie and others to warn their “good buddies” of the presence of law enforcement officers. Maybe today’s younger generation just didn’t see the movies.
The millennial generation cites lifestyle factors as the main reason for its reluctance to enter the profession. Extended periods away from home, showering in rest areas and truck stops, eating high-calorie junk food and sleep deprivation are all given as valid reasons for choosing another way of earning a living. It can’t just be wages; the American Trucking Association (ATA) reported an annual rise in truck driver salaries of between 15% and 18% from 2013 to 2017. There lies another problem for US shippers. The cost of transportation is inexorably rising. The ATA reports that it has never seen freight rates so high. Operator margins are not keeping pace however as more and more trucking companies are obliged to spend the additional revenue on recruiting and retaining drivers. It’s a Catch-22 situation which needs to be addressed somehow… and soon.
Simon Duval Smith
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