America’s Severe Trucker Shortage Could Undermine the Prosperous Economy

By Heather Long, The Washington Post, June 28, 2018
 
tractor trailer truckLAKE MILTON, Ohio —Bob Blocksom, an 87-year-old former insurance salesman, needs a job. He hasn’t saved enough money for his retirement. And trucking companies, desperate for workers, are willing to give him one.
 

Age didn’t matter, they said. If Blocksom could get his “CDL” — commercial driver’s license — they would hire him for a $50,000 job. One even offered to pay his tuition for driver training school, but there was a catch: Blocksom had to commit to driving an 18-wheel truck all over the United States for a year.

So far, that has been too big of an ask for Blocksom, who doesn’t want to spend long stretches of time away from his wife of 60 years. “The more I think about it, it would be tough to be on the road Monday through Friday,” he said.

As the nation faces a historically low level of unemployment, trucking companies are doing what economists have said firms need to do to attract and retain workers: They’re hiking pay significantly, offering bonuses and even recruiting people they previously wouldn’t have considered.

But it’s not working. The industry reports a growing labor shortage — 63,000 open positions this year, a number expected to more than double in coming years — that could have wide-ranging impacts on the U.S. economy.

Nearly every item sold in the United States touches a truck at some point, which explains why the challenges facing the industry, including trucking companies rapidly raising prices as they raise wages, have special power to affect the entire economy. Already, delivery delays are common, and businesses such as Amazon, General Mills and Tyson Foods are raising prices as they pass higher transportation costs along to consumers. On a recent call with investors, a Walmart executive called rising transportation costs the company’s primary “head wind.”

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