Economist: Government Driver Shortage Study Gets It Wrong

- A report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found low pay to be a main driver for high driver turnover in the truckload sector is not an accurate assessment of the driver shortfall issue, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The BLS study, co-authored by economics professor Stephen Burks and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics official Kristen Monaco and made public this week, concluded, among other things, that higher driver wages increase the number of driver hires, especially among those willing to work longer hours if they are able to get paid more. The authors, however, “demonstrated some basic misunderstandings about the trucking industry generally, and how we at ATA and in the industry discuss the driver shortage,” ATA chief economist Bob Costello said in response to the study.

“Carriers repeatedly say it isn’t that they don’t have enough applicants for their open positions – they do. What they do not have is enough applicants who meet the demanding qualifications to be hired. In some cases, carriers must reject 90 percent of applicants out of hand because they fail to meet at least one of the prerequisites to drive in interstate commerce,” Costello said.

Costello asserted that the BLS study ignores this long-standing contention by the ATA, and that the need for qualified drivers is at the heart of the shortage issue. “Unlike other ‘blue collar’ jobs the authors compare truck drivers to – motor carriers cannot simply hire anyone to do the job, there are many barriers to entry for new drivers: age requirements, CDL testing standards, strict drug and alcohol testing regimes and, perhaps most importantly for many fleets safe and clean driving records.”

The BLS study pointed out that during the period from 2003 to 2017, nominal annual wages in trucking “persistently exceeded” those of other similar blue-collar jobs. ATA noted that this occurred as carriers have been unable to hire quality drivers, thereby undercutting the study’s conclusions. “This alone suggests there is a systemic issue with getting enough labor in the for-hire truckload driver market,” Costello asserted.

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