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The U.S. trucker shortage is expected to more than double over the next decade as the industry struggles to replace aging drivers and recruit more women.
The driver deficit swelled by more than 10,000 to 60,800 in 2018 from a year earlier, according to a study by the American Trucking Associations. The shortage is expected to ease slightly this year as U.S.-China trade friction slows freight demand and after trucking companies boosted pay to attract recruits.
The relief won’t last as replacing an aging pool of drivers gets harder in a tight labor market, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the trade group. The shortage is most acute for long-haul drivers, where the average age is 46, and workers are on the road for weeks at a time.
The ATA estimates that 160,000 driver positions will go unfilled in a decade.
“If things do not change, that’s where we will end up,” he said. “At some point, you go from being an operational pain-in-the-neck for the supply chain to real issues for all of us as consumers.”
In addition to increasing pay, trucking companies are trying to recruit more women, young people and former military personnel. Women make up less than 7 percent of drivers, and the industry is pushing to entice more with technology that makes trucks easier to drive and more comfortable.
The Arlington, Virginia-based ATA also wants regulators to lower the age for commercial drivers who can cross state lines by three years to 18. Its proposal would increase training and supervision. Cutting the age increases the recruiting pool and enables people to drive straight out of high school instead of choosing another industry, such as construction, Costello said.
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