From the end of 2010 through January, trucking companies have boosted payrolls by 8.1 percent, or 102,900 jobs, more than twice the 3.4 percent gain in overall employment, according to Labor Department data released Feb. 1. During the 18-month recession that ended in June, 2009, trucking jobs declined at about double the rate of total payroll losses.
Analysts project more gains as the economy expands and truckers face new limits on hours of service. The industry is more than 125,000 drivers short of what it needs to meet demand, according to FTR Associates, the Bloomington, Indiana-based freight data and forecasting firm. The shortfall probably will more than double at the end of this year to 259,000 drivers, the biggest deficit in nine years, according to an FTR forecast.
"We're projecting a continued slow growth in the economy but that growth will be fast enough to keep truck freight growing," said Larry Gross, a senior consultant at FTR. He said new regulations, which will start to be enforced in July, will cut driver productivity and curb hours driven, resulting in a "significant tightening of capacity."
The Transportation Department last February cut the maximum time drivers can remain on duty. Commercial truck drivers can work 70 hours a week, down from 82 hours.
About nine in 10 long-distance carriers report that they can't find enough drivers, said Bob Costello, chief economist at the American Trucking Associations, the Arlington, Va.-based industry group. Annual employee turnover at smaller trucking companies with less than $30 million a year in revenue rose to a five-year high of 94 percent in the third quarter, while larger rivals have a 104 percent rate, ATA data show.
The ATA's For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose in December to 121.8, the second highest in four decades of history. The record was 124.4 in December 2011. The gauge of tonnage hauled in the U.S., based on surveys from members, has rebounded from a seven- year low of 100.2 in April 2009.