A writer at Barrons gets it right on the ‘driver shortage’

March 20, 2019

Wendy Parker


There’s not a shortage of truck drivers.

After 30 years of listening to the ATA yammer about the inevitable demise of society as we know it due to a lack of eleventy-million truck drivers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finally decided to challenge this assertion. They published a lovely little gem of an article in the March 2019 “Monthly Labor Review” that pretty much says what OOIDA has been saying about the “trucker shortage” forever.

It’s a myth. A filthy lie, even.

I laughed.

I laughed because I’ve heard Todd Spencer say, “There’s not a shortage of drivers, there’s a shortage of pay,” about eleventy-million times. Now as far as I know, Todd Spencer doesn’t have a fancy economics degree. He could, and might have never mentioned it, but I’ve also never seen him in the same room with Batman, sooo – make your own decisions there.

The point is, it doesn’t take a fancy economics degree to be right about a basic set of numbers that have never lied. (I’m not sure what the criteria is to be Batman, maybe someone should ask Mr. Spencer.)

Here’s the downside:

Having an affirmative article in the BLS is like growing the biggest pumpkin in your county. There are only a few select folks outside the county who care enough to read about your pumpkin online in the Giant Pumpkin News.

Pumpkin growers, giant vegetable aficionados, and people trying to figure out how to grow gargantuan pumpkins might search and find your awesome pumpkin on the interwebs. Let’s be honest. It’s a pretty small sliver of available interweb-eyeballs and doesn’t really reach the general public, who might need to know things about giant pumpkins.

I cried.

I cried because I was pretty sure the BLS article wouldn’t make it to the eyes of those outside the Great Pumpkin world of trucking. We already know how to grow giant pumpkins – we need the mainstream publications beyond trucking to pick up the burden of a giant pumpkin and run with it.

In strolls Matthew Klein of Barron’s magazine with a wonderfully cited, completely complete breakdown of what I like to call, “In your face!” regarding the 30-year propaganda war the ATA has waged against trucking. (I feel the need to note here that Matthew was more eloquent than “In your face!” and that’s totally my own interpretation of the article.)

Barron’s, y’all. Yeah. That one. A well-respected, mainstream publication in which someone who is completely unaffiliated with the trucking industry might absorb this information and remember it when they hear their congressman blathering about needing 18-year-old drivers because of a driver shortage that doesn’t numerically exist – and never has.

I danced a happy dance.

I felt an unequivocal joy for the trucking industry I haven’t felt in a very long time. I was so happy about this article, I reached out to ask Matthew if he’d call me. I had to know what led him to write the story that opened the door to a mainstream floodgate of reporting on the fantasy that has been “trucker shortage.”

He did.

Matt is a senior writer and the economics commentator at Barron’s. Trucking and transportation are not his general realm of existence. Frankly, Matt writes about a lot of things I don’t understand fully, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. This issue intrigued him because of the influence an actual shortage should have on the economy – influences that were not being supported by initial numbers he gathered.

When Matt queried the ATA for comment, he was referred to their standard, “We’re all going to die if we don’t have eleventy-million truck drivers by 2027,” report. This report (which is actually called “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis”) left Matt with questions about the “vague methodology” used to come to the much-quoted (and deeply flawed) numbers.

To be honest, he talked about macros and inflation, and I stopped him because I didn’t want to waste his time. There’s a reason I leave the numbers-writing to more qualified individuals. Also, talking about macros makes me hungry for mac-and-cheese, and I’m on a carb restriction. But I digress.

What I do know is, we had a very nice conversation about why this article was incredibly important and Matt gets it. He’s also surprised at the amount of response he’s gotten from the piece.

“I think I’ve probably gotten more email response from this than any other thing I’ve written for Barron’s,” Matt said in our phone interview.

Good job, Matt. Thanks again.