For the majority, pay has remained flat or has fallen over the past year.
The trucking industry is reverberating with claims that there is a massive driver shortage, that they have trouble recruiting and retaining drivers, and that they have to pay more to recruit and retain them. So here’s what truck drivers are saying.
How much has your salary increased in the past year?
This should be an obvious one. If there is a driver shortage, and if trucking companies have trouble recruiting and retaining drivers, and if they’re fretting about having to pay more to recruit and retain drivers – which would squeeze their profits – then drivers in turn should see this increase in pay.
Turns out, less than a quarter of the truck drivers in the survey experienced pay increases of over 5%. But 59% of the drivers said their pay has remained flat or has even decreased.
The survey was conducted by driving-tests.org, a test preparation service for driver’s licenses. In total, 4,931 truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses responded. Of them, 2,713 said they had a Class A license; 1,180 had a Class B license; 839 had a Class C license, and 199 had more than one.
In total, 2,925 drivers responded to the question: “How much has your salary increased in the past year?” And this is what they said:
- 12.4%: “My salary has decreased”
- 46.5%: No change in pay
- 16.1%: Pay increased by 0.1% to 5.0%
- 9.2%: Pay increased 5.1% to 10.0%
- 5.2%: Pay increased 10.1% to 15%
- 3.0%: Pay increased 15.1% to 20.0%
- 7.6%: Pay increased more than 20%.
That about 59% of drivers experienced flat or declining pay last year is peculiar because the industry has been singing a different tune. Trucks.com reported in December: “The shortage of drivers and trucks was so great earlier this year that some carriers temporarily turned away orders.” But Trucks.com adds:
Since the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, driver pay has trended lower because of increased competition. Drivers today earn about twice as much as the typical service-sector employee. Before deregulation, it was four times as much, said Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research.
Deregulation “set off a race to the bottom,” said Todd Spencer, president of the 160,000-member Owner-Operators Independent Trucking Association.
“It’s a perpetual hunt for the least expensive labor and flies in the face of seniority or tenure,” Spencer told Trucks.com.
Some private fleet drivers earn upward of $80,000 a year, and they stay with their companies. For-hire drivers at large motor carriers in 2017 earned around $53,000, according to the ATA’s Driver Compensation Study published in March.
Truckers work 55 to 65 hours a week, compared with 42.8 hours for the average full-time worker, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor bureau pegs trucking at roughly $21 an hour, but the actual rate is lower because the workweek is longer.
So the survey by driving-tests.org asked this question, to which 2,519 truck drivers responded:
Why did you originally choose to become a commercial driver? (Check all that apply)
Not quite a quarter of the respondents said it was money. But about 60% cited a passion for one or the other aspect of the job (responses 2, 3, 5, and 6):
- 24.3%: I wanted the competitive salary
- 20.0%: I love operating large vehicles
- 19.6%: I wanted the freedom and independence
- 12.0%: I have good people skills
- 11.0%: I wanted to travel the country
- 9.5%: I thought commercial driving is cool.
- 3.6%: I drove trucks in the military.
And then, a dose of reality. 2,022 drivers responded to this question:
What do you dislike most about commercial driving? (choose one)
- 19.1%: The salary isn’t good enough
- 18.0%: The job can put a strain on my family
- 15.7%: GPS tracking or electronic logging restrict my freedom to work as I want.
- 12.1%: It can be lonely on the road.
- 10.7%: Other
- 8.9%: The job comes with too many risks.
- 8.1%: Self-driving autonomous trucks may decrease demand for commercial drivers.
- 7.4%: The job can adversely affect my health.
Still, most of them are planning to hang in there. This persistence is in part explained by the reasons most of them became truck drivers in the first place: A passion for various aspects of the job, rather than just money (see the second set of responses). In total, 3,811 drivers responded to this question:
Do you plan to leave the commercial driving industry in the next 3 years?
- 85.1%: No
- 10.4% Yes, for another career/opportunity
- 4.5%: Yes, for retirement
Clearly, if the industry really wanted to attract more drivers and retain them, so that it could quit griping about this massive “driver shortage,” then paying drivers more would be a helpful big step – and some trucking companies have been moving in that direction. But clearly, the profit squeeze it might entail is just not a particularly intriguing option for many other trucking companies.
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