Causes of the U.S. Truck Driver Shortage: Consequences and Forecasts

Global supply chain bottlenecks and port congestion are an ongoing challenge for U.S. shippers and a struggling U.S. economy. Yet there is an equally pressing problem: a severe labor shortage in domestic truck services.

By 2020, truckers will be responsible for moving 72% of U.S. freight across the country. This translates into $732.3 billion in annual gross revenue from trucking or 80.4% of the nation’s freight bill in 2020.

Since the pandemic began, the U.S. trucking industry has lost 6% of its workforce and is continually struggling to recruit. The result? By 2021, the industry will be short more than 80,000 drivers – particularly long-haul truckers. And the industry’s labor shortage has created alarming consequences for the U.S. economy.

Why do American Truckers Quit?

More than 40 million Americans left their jobs in 2021; the most commonly cited reasons were low wages, lack of opportunity, and general job dissatisfaction. This “Great Quit” disproportionately affected industries that employ critical frontline workers Truck Dispatch Services, including hospitality, retail, transportation, warehousing, and utilities.

But even before the pandemic, the trucking industry was experiencing high turnover rates. Physically demanding work, coupled with wage instability and rising fuel costs, made it increasingly difficult to recruit new drivers.

The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have inadvertently exacerbated the national driver shortage, with training and apprenticeship programs put on hold or closed entirely.

According to this 2022 survey of 1,000 small and independent truck drivers in the United States:

More than 50% of drivers have considered leaving the industry in the past six months
More than 60% experienced burnout due to the increased demands of the supply chain.
63% of independent or small fleet drivers have considered switching to larger trucking companies for more stable pay and more consistent loads.

Consequences of the Current Truck Driver Shortage

It is increasingly difficult for companies to find enough truckers to pick up containers at the ports and transport them to their destination on time.

The widespread shortage of truck drivers has resulted in numerous consequences for U.S.-based consumers and shippers.

Container pileup: Without enough truck drivers to unload containers and move cargo to its destination, U.S. ports, and rail yards are overwhelmed with idling cargo. Last year, these cargoes spilled into residential neighborhoods surrounding container ports.

Supply Chain Bottlenecks: Significant delays in shipping goods and lack of visibility into delivery times lead to stock-outs. Businesses are unable to meet the high seasonal demand for consumer goods, causing in-store and online sales to fall and weighing on the economy.
Inflation: Increased demand and lack of supply are causing a dramatic increase in the cost of living on food, fuel, utilities, retail goods, and services. In 2021, the consumer price index reached 7%, its biggest jump in four decades.

Potential Solutions and Future Prospects

The average age of a commercial truck driver in the United States is 55, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Industry recruitment has largely overlooked women, veterans, and younger applicants. Workers must be at least 21 years old to drive commercial vehicles across state lines, and only 7.8 percent of U.S. truck drivers are women.

All of this points to a rapidly shrinking workforce if no changes are made. To offset the number of drivers who will retire over the next two decades, industry advocates are encouraging trucking companies and policymakers to redouble their efforts to recruit a larger and more diverse driver population.

At the same time, many truck drivers are lobbying for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, explaining that the problem is not so much a labor shortage as the lack of worker protections and competitive compensation.

As for how this shortage will play out in the near future, port truckers are predicting a 30 percent drop in truck capacity at California ports in January 2023. This is due to an upcoming “state mandate allowing only 2010 model year or newer trucks to operate at their marine terminals.”

Truck dealers and manufacturers are also experiencing delivery delays of up to a year or more due to shortages of critical materials and parts. As a result, it is likely that demand for viable freight trucks will soon outstrip market supply.

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