An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal talked about the shortage of truck drivers. The American Trucking Associations1 says there was a shortage of 50,000 drivers in 2015 and claims part of the reason is the grueling nature of the job. The article2, however, makes it pretty clear there is another reason. The trucking companies don’t pay enough:
“Drivers typically receive training from big trucking companies or schools affiliated with them. Those who become independent contractors sign lease-to-own deals to purchase their vehicles, often with those same companies. But the terms are onerous, and drivers owe so much that they may end up working 70 or 80 hours a week just to pay back what they owe and cover expenses such as fuel and insurance. …
Even those working as employees have a hard time making ends meet, partly because they are only paid for the miles they drive, not time waiting to load and unload their rigs or sitting in traffic. Mr. Viscelli [a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Robert A. Fox Leadership Program] recounts a 16-hour day spent crawling through traffic in the New York area, only to get stuck at a New Jersey rail yard for the night. That day he drove 215 miles and earned $56.”
So here is an idea for trucking companies who claim they can’t get enough drivers: Increase pay – a lot.
There are frequent articles about farmers who say they need immigrants, perhaps even illegal immigrants, to pick crops because they can’t find “Americans”3 to do the work. Of course, what they really mean is that they can’t find Americans to do the work at the amount they want to pay. Sometimes they talk about how they have increased pay, or promised bonuses, to get more workers. But the increases, or bonuses, are not big.
I understand that, if farmers have to pay substantially more to their workers, food prices will go up. Some people will probably buy less of a particular food if the price goes up, and people will have less money to spend on other things. But if we want to see if “Americans” will do these jobs, we have to pay more. It may be that they won’t. Maybe they won’t do this work no matter how high the pay is. But unless pay is increased – a lot, we won’t know.
It is the same way with truck drivers. If the trucking industry really can’t find enough truck drivers at current rates of pay, they are going to have to increase pay. Which will increase the prices the trucking companies have to charge their customers, and so on up the chain.
That is the way it is in a free market. If employers can’t get enough workers at rates they want to pay, then they have to increase the amount they pay. Which is the way it ought to be.
1 Yes, the name of the group really is plural.
2 The article is behind the Journal’s paywall. Sorry.
3 I am using the term “Americans” here not as I would use it, but as it seems to be used by people who claim immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. Used this way, the term would exclude at least people who are here illegally (obviously) and people who come here on special visas to do farm work. Whether other groups would also be excluded would depend on the person using the term.