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Where Have All the Truckers Gone?

Guest Author

If there was a dive bar for driver recruiting professionals, it’s easy to imagine a bunch of marketing directors, terminal managers, and VPs of operations sitting around, cracking open a few cold ones, and asking each other, “Where have all the truckers gone? Our applicant tracking systems have gone dry.”

This silly scenario reflects a somber reality. The post-COVID rebound of truck transportation employment has been slower than that of other employment sectors, and this fact has left a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering why. Is it a supply issue? Have drivers failed to re-enter the workforce because of expanded unemployment benefits? Or is it a demand issue? Has the amount of available freight decreased creating less demand for truck drivers?

A group of researchers from Randall-Reilly and Michigan State University pooled their resources and together attempted to solve this puzzling query. These researchers used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to compare driver supply statistics (truck transportation employment levels) to driver demand statistics (employment levels in freight-producing industries*) on a state-by-state basis. The results were somewhat surprising and more-than-somewhat interesting.

“state-level unemployment benefits played little to no role in the rate at which truck transportation employment rebounded from the COVID-19 crises.”

For brevity’s sake, there were two key findings worth discussing here. First, state-level unemployment benefits played little to no role in the rate at which truck transportation employment rebounded from the COVID-19 crises. Specifically, states that ended their extended unemployment benefits the quickest didn’t see any faster of a rebound in truck transportation employment when compared to states that took longer to end their extended unemployment benefits.

And second, demand-side factors, specifically growth in freight-producing industries, had the biggest impact on the speed at which truck transportation employment bounced back to pre-COVID levels. When states saw a rise in freight-producing industry employment, they also saw a rise in trucking employment levels. In other words, in states where truck transportation employment levels were slow to rebound from the COVID-19 crises, the slow rebound was likely the result of the amount of available freight being slow to rebound.

Taken together, these findings give us an answer to the question “Where have all the truckers gone?” And the answer is, they’re wherever the freight is at.

*Freight-producing industries include warehousing employment and goods-producing industry employment

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A State-by-State Analysis