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Truckers see substantial pay raises in 2021

10/18/2022

The driver shortage is incentivizing motor carriers to pay truckers more than they ever have before.

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that truckers, as a collective, are being paid more for their services. From logistics providers to bottling entities, employers surely seem than willing to pay the big bucks to get people to drive their big rigs.

A new survey from the American Trucking Associations shows those wage increases weren't isolated incidents, but the norm.

In 2021, the typical professional truck driver nationwide earned a median salary of $69,000, according to the ATA's latest compensation study. That's a growth in the pay of nearly 20% compared to a similar analysis done a year before and less than $2,000 shy of what U.S. households made, which includes two or more earners. The real median household income in 2021 was close to $70,800, based on the most recent figures available from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is an indication that the standard truck driver, in a number of cases, is earning the equivalent of two salaries.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the ATA, said employers' difficulties with recruitment have worked to truckers' advantage.

"The data supports what industry sources have been saying for some time – the driver shortage has been great for drivers who saw their salaries rise last year," Costello explained. "Pay increases were broad-based across the industry, for example between salary increases and bonuses, the average truckload driver saw a wage increase of 10.9% last year."

Pay is the most persuasive incentive for Gen Z and millennials
As with other lines of work, trucking is an aging industry; many seasoned drivers are either retiring or nearing that time in their careers. Motor carriers, and businesses that employ drivers, have targeted millennials and Gen Z to plug the gap left by baby boomers. While pay isn't the only factor younger generations value in a career, it remains the most attractive benefit. Indeed, 40% of millennials and Gen Z — in a survey commissioned by the American Transportation Research Institute — point to salary as the primary reason they chose trucking as a career path. The second most common response was job stability with 15% indicating as much.

Costello noted that business owners have several rationales for paying current and prospective CDL owners more money to stay or get behind the wheel.

"The driver shortage, coupled with increased demand for goods in the post-pandemic economy, really drove driver salaries," Costello pointed out. "These pay increases should put to lie the myths about the nature of this job – trucking is a path that can provide a well-paid career for Americans looking for one."

The vast majority of organizations that have truck drivers as employees increased their pay last year, totaling around 90% of truckload fleets, ATA data shows. The average pay hike that truckers received was just shy of 11%.

Combined with wages, high gas prices as well as inflation, 2021 was an expensive year for motor carriers. The total marginal cost of trucking rose close to 13%. At an average of $1.85, last year was the costliest year on record for the industry, based on a separate study conducted by ATRI.

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