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America has a massive truck driver shortage. Here's why few want an $80,000 job


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The Washington Post  /  June 1, 2018

America has a massive shortage of truck drivers. Joyce Brenny, head of Brenny Transportation in Minnesota, increased driver pay 15 percent this year to try to attract more drivers. Many of her drivers now earn $80,000, she says, yet she still can't find enough people for the job.

About 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country, according to the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. The ATA predicts that it's likely to get worse in the coming years.

Many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers that they are offering signing bonuses and pay raises.

So why don't more Americans want this job? We asked truck drivers who have been doing the job anywhere from four months to 40 years for their views.

Most said the answer is simple: The lifestyle is rough. You barely see your family, you rarely shower, and you get little respect from car drivers, police or major retailers.

Michael Dow said he has been divorced twice because of trucking. Donna Penland said she gained 60 pounds her first year from sitting all day and a lack of healthful food on the road.

A few drivers told The Washington Post that they earn $100,000, but many said their annual pay is less than $50,000 (government statistics say median pay for the industry is $42,000). As for the bonuses, driver Daniel Gollnick said they are a "complete joke" because of all the strings attached.

Despite the hardships, half said they would recommend the job to friends and family, chiefly because, as Gollnick said, "it's the easiest money you can get without a college degree." Here are the drivers' perspectives on America's trucking crisis.

"I have been divorced two times because of truck driving." — Michael Dow

Michael Dow of Dallas has been a truck driver for more than two decades. He and his brother started a company, Dow Brothers Transportation, this year. They hope it will more than double their pay from prior years.

Age: 48

Yearly income: $45,000

Why don't people want this job? "The pay is so far behind the curve. I make less money now than I did 20 years ago if you adjust for inflation and cost of living. I figured it out once, and I was making $14 or $15 an hour driving for the big carriers. People flipping hamburgers are demanding $15 an hour."

Have you gotten a raise? "I have, because I went out and started my own company this year. The rates have never been this good in over 20 years. I hope the driver shortage continues. Skilled drivers like me aren't cheap right now. I'm anticipating I'll make $85,000 to $120,000 this year."

Would you recommend this job? "I have a 21-year-old son in the military who is about ready to come out. In all honesty, I do not wish him to get into this industry because it's a hard life. I don't recommend it to anyone who has a family. My kids are in their 20s now. I missed most of their lives growing up. They tell me they wish I would have been home more. I have been divorced two times because of truck driving. For a real perspective, talk to a trucker's wife."

"I see those ads for big driver bonuses, but it's a complete joke." — Daniel Gollnick

Daniel Gollnick of Melrose, Wis., drives for a company that has him home each night. He used to drive a flatbed truck across the country, but his girlfriend didn't like him being away so much.

Age: 28

Yearly income: $45,000

Did you get a raise lately? "We got a $1 raise this year. We were at $17.50 an hour for most drivers. Now we're at $18.50. That barely covers inflation or anything. I see those ads for big driver bonuses, but it's a complete joke.

I've worked for a couple of major trucking companies: Roehl Transport and Melton Truck Lines. Both offered sign-on bonuses, but what they don't tell you is what it's dependent upon to get that $1,000. Sometimes you needed to have certifications to deal with hazmat or be qualified to drive on military bases or ports. And you need to meet fuel-usage requirements, but they usually give you the oldest trucks that are least likely to get the sign-on bonuses because they use more fuel."

Would you recommend this job? "I do. I tell friends who are working minimum-wage or factory jobs to go get their CDL [commercial driver's license, which takes a few weeks]. It's the easiest money you can get without a college degree, but it's a hard industry. You're going to be alone a lot."

Is the industry in a crisis? "There are not enough truckers. I've been running around doing extra runs, because we are shorthanded. But I've noticed I'm not truly picking up more physical freight. I'm just picking up at more places."

"I gained 60 pounds because it's a sedentary life." — Donna Penland

Donna Penland of Houston decided to get her CDL 18 months ago after her boyfriend was laid off from his job and wanted to try trucking. The duo "team-drove" a truck, meaning they would trade off driving so the vehicle would be on the road almost 24 hours a day. They eventually broke up, but Penland continued driving on her own.

Age: 50

Yearly income: "$50,000 is where you're going to be when you work for a big company. If you want to make more money than that, you have to find an independent person with two or three trucks that really does appreciate you as a driver and they share profits with you."

Have you received a raise? "I work for Martin Transportation now. They don't offer signing bonuses, but I work on a Coca-Cola dedicated route, and Coke is putting up bonuses because they need drivers. So I got a $3,500 signing bonus. But they don't just give you $3,500. I received $500 after 30 days and another $1,000 after 60 days. They spread it out."

Would you recommend this job? "No. Not to most of my friends. It takes a special kind of person, because you basically give up your life for the job. You are dedicated to that truck.

Most people are 'over the road' drivers, because that is where you make the most money. It means you go coast to coast and border to border. You are supposed to get a day off after every seven days of driving, but companies prefer that you stay out 60 days and then take just a few days off.

I gained 60 pounds because it's a sedentary life. You just drive, sleep, drive, sleep. Companies don't treat you like a human. You are a just a machine that makes money for them."

Is this a good job for women? "I think it is a good profession for women, but there are a lot of doors to break down. The guys treat you like you're stupid and don't know anything. And companies are almost always asking you to do stuff that's illegal — to work extra hours or to dump trash illegally."

"It's more than getting behind a steering wheel and driving." — Ryan Kitchel

Ryan Kitchel of Greensboro, N.C., has been a flatbed truck driver for two years. He used to work in emergency services but wanted a change. He is home most weekends, but during the week he drives all over the East Coast with "open trailers" that carry steel, roofs, FEMA trailers and more.

Age: 36

Yearly income: $100,000

Have you gotten a raise lately? "I make decent money. I get paid a percentage [of my load cost]. But I make about the same that my dad made in the 1970s."

What's frustrating about being a truck driver? "My dad was a truck driver. There was a different level of respect for truck drivers then and more camaraderie. Car drivers today have no understanding of what we do. They cut us off all of the time. Car drivers see a space between trucks, and they jump in. They don't realize that's our stopping lane. We need that space."

Why aren't more people becoming truckers? "I used to train drivers. A lot of guys don't realize everything that is involved in trucking. It's more than getting behind a steering wheel and driving. You got to be able to do your paperwork. You got to watch your surroundings. You have to keep the truck and trailer in line. You have to watch everyone around you, because cars aren't watching."

Would you recommend this job? "Yeah. What other job are you going to do minimum training for and jump out of the box making $50,000?"

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That’s the best article I’ve read for a while, cause they actually asked the truck drivers for their opinion. 

I feel I’m pretty luck cause I drive for 3 or 4 days then I’ll load and do maintenence for two days. Buggered if I could drive straight for 6 days a week. 

Ive put on weight a bit, and my back and neck kill me after most trips. 

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good article.


iv seen a lot of people come and go over the years. 

part of me wants to get out as well. just burnt out, but i do pretty well at it most of the time and would hate to cut my yearly earnings by 75% to get a 9-5 home every night job. 

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