The federal government just confirmed what America's 1.8 million truck drivers have been saying for years - the truck driver shortage doesn't really exist

truckersirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Mainstream publications ranging from The Washington Post to CNN or NPR, powered by findings from America's foremost trucking trade group, have been sounding the warning bells on the "truck driver shortage."

The American Trucking Associations, which represents trucking company leadership rather than truckers themselves, said America is short 50,000 truck drivers, and that the industry will need to recruit and train 898,000 new truckers by 2026. Trucking companies ranked the truck driver shortage as their top industry issue in 2017 and 2018.

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But the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded this month that oft-parroted claims of a truck driver shortage are overblown.

"As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market, and while it tends to be 'tight,' it imposes no constraints on entry into (or exit from) the occupation," the report said. "There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way."

truck driverRogelio V. Solis/AP

BLS associate commissioner Kristen Monaco and Stephen V. Burks, a professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, wrote the report, published in the BLS's Monthly Labor Review.

They found that the factors that have driven trucking executives to call the truck driver labor situation a "shortage" wouldn't lead most economists to the same conclusion. The American Trucking Associations did not respond to a request for comment.

"(E)economists would not regard high turnover rates and the associated problems of recruiting and retaining drivers in this part of trucking as a long-term shortage," Burks and Moanco wrote. "Nor would they call these conditions a 'broken market,' except to the extent that one might use that term for a secondary labor market segment, since the high turnover that marks such a segment is an indicator that the jobs in it are unattractive to many potential employees."

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For some truck drivers, this "shortage" has proven a boon for their take-home pay. First-year Walmart truckers now earn $87,500 on average, up from $86,000. Truckers at Smokey Point Distributing, based in Arlington, Washington, received bonuses of $20,000-plus in 2018. Atlas Van Lines, based in Evansville, Indiana, announced its "largest and most extensive" pay increase in August.

Nearly half of all truckers said their pay went up in 2018, compared to 11% in 2017. Sign-on bonuses for flatbed drivers have jumped from $1,500 in 2017 Q2 to $6,000 in 2018 Q2, as Business Insider previously reported.

But, as Matthew Klein at Barron's wrote, most truck drivers haven't seen their salaries increase significantly - even though their employers are sounding the alarm on a shortage and other blue-collar fields have appropriately bumped salaries (LINK). Indeed, their take-home pay has only risen to the degree of that of other workers:

Trucker wages have grown rapidly since last spring, but that simply compensates them for the wage stagnation that occurred from June 2016 to March 2017, and again from October 2017 to April 2018. Since the start of 2016, truck driver wages are up just 2.3% at an annual average rate, compared with 2.7% for nonsupervisory workers across the U.S. private sector.

A Business Insider analysis showed that median wages for truck drivers have decreased 21% on average since 1980. In some areas, they've declined as much as 50%.

From 1977 to 1987, mean truck driver earnings declined 24%, according to research by Wayne State University economics professor Michael Belzer. And from 1980 to today, a Business Insider comparison found that median trucking wages have sunk as much as 35.8% in some metropolitan areas.

truck driverDavid Goldman/AP

The findings from the BLS confirms what dozens of truck drivers, and industry analysts, have told Business Insider over the past year - there isn't a truck driver shortage, just a lack of people who want to work 70 hours a week for a job that pays, on average, $42,000 annually.

"The driver shortage has nothing - regardless to do w what anyone says - to do with the fact that people don't want to do this job," Will Kling, a truck driver, told Business Insider last year. "Little boys still pump their arms for trucks. People want this job, but they can't do it and support their family."

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