Trucking wage growth outpaces other industries amid driver shortage

It is a good time to be a long-haul trucker, and they are in demand.

The American Trucking Associations in D.C. have released a new report that shows more than 90% of truckload fleets raised pay in 2021, with an average increase of 10.9%.

Median wages have risen 18% since 2019.

The report said 69% of fleets offered referral bonuses for new drivers in 2021, and 54% offered sign-on bonuses.

The median pay in 2021 was $70,000 plus benefits. Independent drivers with their own rigs can do even better.

“There are also those drivers who prefer to be their own boss and an independent contractor. And if they are a good driver and a good businessperson, then they can do very well as an independent contractor,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA.

There are several reasons for the driver shortage, including demand outstripping supply, and aging drivers. The average age of a driver is 50, compared with 42 for all U.S. workers.

Another reason for the shortage of drivers might, ironically, be the significant increase in wages recently.

“We do know of some drivers that when they get a big pay raise — say an 11% pay raise — they will elect to drive less, make the same money and be home more often,” Costello said.

The issue of aging drivers might be addressed by lowering the minimum age for interstate truck drivers, currently 21 years old. The Infrastructure Bill includes the Drive-Safe Act, a pilot system to allow a pre-determined number of drivers ages 18, 19, and 20 to drive those routes with additional training and oversight.

“If somebody graduates from high school and they don’t go to college or go into the military, they are not going to sit around until they’re 21 to drive interstate freight. So what do they do? They go to fast food, they go to retail, they go to construction,” Costello said.

ATA said the industry is 80,000 jobs short of what is needed, though the number of actual job openings is much higher.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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