More truckers hired in October, but will they stay?

November 5, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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Employment in trucking experienced a surge in October as the supply chain is desperate for more drivers to haul a tremendous backlog, but poor working conditions may scare them off.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 8,000 jobs were added to the trucking sector last month. Released on Friday, the report shows trucking employment rose by 4,500 jobs in September. Last month’s preliminary numbers showed an increase of only 2,500 for September.

Year to date, trucking sector employment is up nearly 37,000 jobs. Preliminary numbers for October are the second-highest increase, only behind August’s increase of 8,700 jobs.

Monthly trucking employment numbers have gone down only twice this year: 1,800 fewer jobs in February and a loss of 800 jobs in May. At the beginning of the year, the economic situation in the United States was looking to recover from disruptions caused by the pandemic. Not only were people returning to work, but those who were able to work through the pandemic had more disposable income deriving from money received from federal relief efforts.

Consequently, the economy started booming. With more money to spend, people across the globe began spending more compared with the last year and a half. However, the pandemic had caused some employment disruptions within the supply chain, including trucking in February and May. Due to a smaller workforce trying to keep up with unprecedented demand, the supply chain is currently in a gigantic traffic jam.

Some claim the supply chain traffic jam is the result of not enough truckers.

While many argue that is the result of an industrywide driver shortage crisis, other stakeholders, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, believe there is a retention problem. In other words, plenty of new drivers are coming into the trucking industry. Unfortunately, low wages and poor working environments are chasing most of them out.

In October, OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh discussed the supply chain crisis on the Glenn Beck Program. Pugh pointed out that truck drivers’ complaints over the decades are just now getting attention because of the pandemic.

“We have a broken, inefficient system,” Pugh told Beck. “And with all of the shortages with COVID and everything, it’s finally been brought to light.”

Pugh said that increasing employment is not going to solve the problem in the long term.

Unless companies start addressing pay and poor working conditions, including hours a day being waiting at the ports, new drivers will exit the industry quickly, leaving the nation right back where it started.

“Most of what we are seeing is not a surprise to our members, who have been plagued with dysfunction in the supply chain for decades, and it’s not realistic to expect the supply chain will suddenly operate efficiently on a 24/7 schedule when drivers aren’t being fully paid for their time,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said on Oct. 13.

Although trucking employment is showing signs of improvement, the federal numbers do not reflect long-haul trucking employment only. The bureau factors in many other forms of trucking, including delivery and local.

According to a Convoy analysis, owner-operator employment is slightly above pre-pandemic levels. However, wage growth is weakening. Convoy claims “average weekly wage growth for trucking industry workers has slowed from nearly 7% per year in June to under 4% per year in August.”

How many new drivers will stay in the game for the long haul remains to be seen for now. LL

Land Line Senior Editor Mark Schremmer contributed to this report.

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.