The American Trucking Association (ATA) reported a shortage of 80,000 drivers in 2021, a historical high. By 2030, the ATA expects that number to hit just to more than 160,000. This is partly because the annual salary for a big rig driver is about $48,000 per year, or $23 per hour.
But that is only part of the problem.
At first glance, this might look like the perfect time to get behind the wheel of a big rig, especially with reports saying that gas prices have decreased and supply chain issues have loosened up. There is a false sense that things have improved for truck drivers.
But independent trucker Jason Froehlie told NewsNation otherwise, saying that simply isn’t true.
At a truck stop off I-55 in Bolingbrook, Illinois, NewsNation spoke with drivers first-hand to better understand the crisis.
Froehlie, one of those drivers, said the ATA’s solution to combat the staffing shortage was to recruit a million new drivers over the next decade.
But that isn’t as simple as it seems, especially when benefits and working conditions aren’t too appealing.
The problem is truck drivers used to get subsidized for some of their long hauls, but are not getting the same subsidies that they used to get due to inflation. Yet, companies still expect deliveries to be transported.
In addition to fewer drivers on the road making these deliveries, the truckers are paying more out of their own pocket to do so. It’s a situation Foley said is simply untenable.
“Well, the biggest thing is if you don’t have trucks, you don’t have what you need. So if we have to shut down or these guys can’t afford fuel, we’re done,” Froehlie said. “You know, in his no differences from our farmers, you know, if they can’t afford to fuel in their tractors, you guys aren’t eating. Farmers and truckers you can either go broke, hungry and poor if you don’t have them.”
Many truck drivers work 60-70 hours a week, even though a good amount of that time is spent waiting for good to be loaded or unloaded. The kicker: They only get paid for the driving time. All the hours waiting for goods, loading the truck and unloading the truck, the drivers don’t get paid.
“Just trying to make an honest dollar. We’re trying to — you know — supply and demand, try to keep America running,” independent trucker John Kraft said.
But it’s not just the driver shortage that is hurting truckers. It’s a matter of retaining drivers in a less-than-desirable job market.
While many are compensated for overtime, they don’t have health care benefits. And drivers are paying their own fuel costs. Plus, most drivers spend days, or even weeks, on the road. These are just some of the issues truck drivers deal with while living life on the road.
“We’re paying out of our pockets at this point. I’m in the negative. I’m scared of my account,” independent trucker Misael Reye said. “But that’s the reality. So honestly, it’s like time is money. I’ve got to get going. But I apologize. This is stupid. And it’s ridiculous. And we’re getting crushed. What will happen? We’re all going to end up just not working. Then prices will continue to go up because who the hell is going to do this?”
NewsNation highlighted truckers back in May 2022 in an exclusive series Behind the Wheel: Truck Week.