Trucking is one of several industries that can be a fairly accurate economic barometer. During 2007 as the economy slid into recession, the industry experienced declines in the amount of freight being shipped – a clear and early indication that the nation’s economy was slowing down.
The trucking industry is still attempting to recover from the job losses suffered after 2007 as are other industries. Since then, the number of heavy and tractor-trailer drivers has decreased from nearly 1.7 million to just below 1.6 million in 2013 – a 5.9 percent decline.
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In Idaho the trucking industry has also seen a decline in jobs – 4.3 percent between 2007 and 2013.
Despite the decline during and since the recession, trucking jobs are expected to increase both nationally and in Idaho in the coming years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2012 and 2022 demand for truck drivers should rise 11 percent nationally. The Idaho Department of Labor’s long-term occupation projections anticipate an increase of 12.9 percent through 2020.
The need for additional truck drivers is good economic news. The American Trucking Association estimates over 69 percent of all goods were shipped by truck in 2013. A growing trucking industry generally signals a growing state and national economy.
Demand for truck drivers goes beyond finding drivers to fill new jobs. About two-thirds of the 387 annual openings for truck drivers in Idaho will result from existing drivers leaving their jobs through retirement or for another line of work.
Truckers generally leave the job for reasons other than pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the median wage for a tractor-trailer driver at $38,200 in 2012, which is one of the drawing cards for the industry.
Turnover is often related to the nature of the job or health issues. Many drivers new to the profession cannot adjust to being on the road for three to five weeks at a time. Their families have difficulty coping with those long absences, and it is not uncommon for new drivers to quit during their first year on the road.
The nature of the profession can often have negative health related consequences. A truck driver’s work day can be as long as 14 hours – a legal maximum of 11 behind the wheel. The other three hours can involve unloading cargo or other tasks. Truckers are legally limited to driving 60 hours in a seven-day week.
The long hours behind the wheel can make many drivers prime candidates for heart diseases or diabetes.
High driver turnover creates a challenge for many Idaho trucking companies. To ease the impact of weeks on the road away from family, some trucking companies operating in Idaho offer a team driver program where spouses can share the driving responsibility. Some even allow a child to accompany a parent driver.
Trucking companies are also using tuition reimbursement in their recruiting efforts. Currently, Sage Truck Driving Schools, which has instructional centers in four Idaho locations, works with several companies that pay the cost of their drivers’ education after the driver graduates.
Idaho’s trucking industry will likely continue to grow if new qualified drivers can be found. Filling the industry’s trucking jobs will be a critical challenge over the coming decade.
Dan.Cravens@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 236-6710, ext. 3713