Is the U.S. labor market for truck drivers broken?

Stephen V. Burks, Kristen Monaco

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The trade press covering the U.S. trucking industry often portrays the U.S. labor market for truck drivers as dysfunctional, citing persistent driver shortages and high levels of firm-level turnover and predicting significant resulting constraints on the supply of motor freight services. We use three techniques to investigate the labor market for truck drivers. First, using data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we delineate the structure of the driver workforce. Second, using data from the Current Population Survey, we describe the occupations and industries from which drivers come and to which drivers go when they change occupations, and statistically analyze these entries and exits. We find relatively high rates of occupational attachment among drivers, and importantly, we also find that truck drivers respond in the expected manner to differences in earnings across occupations. Finally, we point out that the issues discussed by the industry are concentrated in one segment of the overall market, that for drivers in long-distance truckload (TL) motor freight, which contains between one-sixth and one-fourth of all heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers. These findings suggest a more nuanced view of this labor market. 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. There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way. The persistent issues localized in the TL segment are not visible in the aggregate data and require a distinct analysis.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-21
    Number of pages21
    JournalMonthly Labor Review
    StatePublished - 2019

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