Truck and Bus Driver ‘Shortages’

Working conditions rather than labor supply seems to be the issue.

The free high-resolution photo of road, highway, driving, transportation, transport, truck, vehicle, aviation, drive, flight, industry, business, moving, startup, hauling, cargo, diesel, load, delivery, mover, screenshot, semi truck, trucking, eighteen, trucker, truck driver, automotive exterior, atmosphere of earth, owner operator, truck driving , taken with an COOLPIX S8100 02/19 2017 The picture taken with 6.0mm, f/3.5s, 10/3500s, ISO 160 The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0.
CC0 Public Domain photo via PxHere

Two related stories go deeper into why we’re having so much trouble meeting our demand for drivers.

Time labor columnist Alana Semuels declares, “The Truck Driver Shortage Doesn’t Exist. Saying There Is One Makes Conditions Worse for Drivers.”

As the U.S. contends with supply-chain problems that could make holiday shopping harder, one explanation comes up again and again: The country doesn’t have enough truckers. “The Biggest Kink in America’s Supply Chain: Not Enough Truckers,” a New York Times story read this week. Where Are All the Truck Drivers? Shortage Adds to Delivery Delays, cried a Wall Street Journal headline the week before.

In reality, there is no shortage of people who want to get into truck driving, nor is there a shortage of people who have obtained commercial driving licenses (CDLs).

Now, in fairness, the NYT and WSJ pieces make this very clear even in the first paragraphs of their stories. But Semuels objects to characterizing the situation as a “shortage.”

There’s no trucker shortage; there’s a trucker retention problem created by the poor conditions that sprung up in the industry in the wake of 1980s deregulation. Turnover for truck drivers in fleets with more than $30 million of annual revenue was 92% at the end of 2020, meaning roughly 9 out of every 10 drivers will no longer be working for that company in a year.

“​​There’s no shortage of workers, that’s the narrative that gets propagated by industry leaders,” says Mike Chavez, the executive director of the Inland Empire Labor Institute, which is working on a partnership to create better recruiting and retention programs for drivers. “We still have a lot of positions that can’t be filled because of the working conditions.”

Now, again, both the cited stories make this quite clear. The opener of the NYT report:

Facing more than $50,000 in student debt, Michael Gary dropped out of college and took a truck driving job in 2012. It paid the bills, he said, and he could reduce his expenses if he lived mostly out of a truck.

But over the years, the job strained his relationships. He was away from home for weeks at a time and could not prioritize his health: It took more than three years to schedule an optometry appointment, which he kept canceling because of his irregular work hours. He quit on Oct. 6.

“I had no personal life outside of driving a truck,” said Mr. Gary, 58, a resident of Vancouver, Wash. “I finally had enough.”

Truck drivers have been in short supply for years, but a wave of retirements combined with those simply quitting for less stressful jobs is exacerbating the supply chain crisis in the United States, leading to empty store shelves, panicked holiday shoppers and congestion at ports. Warehouses around the country are overflowing with products, and delivery times have stretched to months from days or weeks for many goods.

The opener of the WSJ report:

Truck driver Chris Wagner pulled his big rig into a grain processing plant in Sidney, Ohio, on a recent afternoon to pick up a load bound for the Chicago suburbs. He’d lost his scheduled place in line because of delays at an earlier delivery, so it was 10:45 p.m. before the plant was ready to load his trailer.

By then, the clock had run out on his federally mandated 14-hour workday, so Mr. Wagner couldn’t pull up to the dock. He slept that night in his truck on the plant’s lot and left empty-handed the following morning, unable to reschedule the pickup.

“I sat overnight and still never got loaded,” said Mr. Wagner, a 53-year-old retired Marine from Lena, Ill., who drives for Quality Transport Co., a small trucking operator based in nearby Freeport.

A critical, often-overlooked link in the supply chain is emerging as a stubborn choke point in the freight-backlog mess: trucking.

Trucks haul more than 70% of domestic cargo shipments. Yet many fleets say they can’t hire enough drivers to meet booming consumer demand as the U.S. economy emerges from the pandemic.

The freight backup has intensified longstanding strains in the industry over hours, pay, working conditions and retention.

Both begin with sympathetic anecdotes and cite the crappiness of the jobs. Still, Semuels has a point:

In fact, there are so many truck drivers right now that brokers are able to pit them against each other and worsen conditions, says Sunny Grewal, a Fresno, Calif.-based driver. Grewal, 32, has been driving since 2010, and has a refrigerated truck, which he uses to haul fruits and vegetables. It costs him $1.75 to $2 to drive a mile empty, so any job that pays less than $3 a mile isn’t worth it, he says. Yet as brokers see more drivers looking for jobs, they post more loads that pay less and end up requiring a lot of unpaid waiting around. “If they know there are a lot of carriers, they treat you like crap,” Grewal says.

He’s recently gotten jobs hauling loads of produce, only to arrive and be told the produce hasn’t even been picked from the field. He has to wait until it’s picked and packaged, and doesn’t get paid for the first four hours he waits. There have been times when he’s waited 27 hours to pick up a load. Truckers get paid per mile driven, so all that waiting means lost money, especially since federal regulations stipulate that he can only drive 11 hours out of every 24. He only gets paid $150 for a “layover day,” which is a day spent waiting. He can’t tell brokers he doesn’t want to wait around, because they’ll find someone who will take the load, especially because rates are high right now.

“If I refuse it, someone else will take it,” he told me.

There are other frustrations—even when he has to wait for hours outside warehouses, he’s not allowed to use their bathrooms, and he can’t leave or he’ll lose his place in line. Government regulations mandate that he takes a break every 14 hours (and can drive 11 of those 14 hours), there aren’t enough places where he’s allowed to park his truck and sleep. Truckers across the country have long complained that the lack of truck parking creates unsafe conditions; Grewal shudders when he hears stories of truck drivers killed while at remote locations.

It’s hard to characterize these conditions as other than inhumane.

It’s easy to see what attracts so many people to the business. Even $1 a mile is really good money for someone with relatively little education and training. Six hundred miles (10 hours at 60mph) a day for five days is $3000 a week. Do that 50 weeks a year, and you’re making $150,000. That’s good money even in the DC area, let alone in most of the rest of the country.

Of course, driving 10 hours a day is hard work and doing it day after day would get old quickly for most of us. Still, in an idealized version, there’s no boss looking over your shoulder and you can listen to music, talk radio, audiobooks, podcasts, or other entertainment all day. And, again, it’s hard to find another job paying that kind of money.

But if you’re constantly being jerked around and forced to accept $150 for the day rather than $300—and treated as a subhuman while you’re doing it—it quickly gets less attractive, indeed.

Semuels blames the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

Deregulation essentially changed trucking from a system where a few companies had licenses to take freight on certain routes for certain rates into a system where just about anyone with a motor-carrier authority could move anything anywhere, for whatever the market would pay. As more carriers got into trucking post-deregulation, union rates fell, as did wages. Total employee compensation fell 44% in over-the-road trucking between 1977 and 1987, he says. Today, drivers get paid about 40% less than they did in the late 1970s, Viscelli says, but are twice as productive as they were then.

Now that truck drivers are gig workers, the inefficiencies of the supply chain are making the jobs worse and worse, as Grewal has discovered. “So much of this is about the inefficient use of time. Is there a shortage of truck drivers? Probably not. But they are certainly being used less and less efficiently,” Viscelli says. “That’s the long term consequence of not pricing their time.”

Ironically, the louder the narrative becomes about the “shortage” of truck drivers, the more resources pop up to funnel people into driving. In 1990, the trucking industry figured it needed about 450,000 new drivers and warned of a shortage; in 2018, before the pandemic, the industry said it was short 60,800 drivers.

During the pandemic, government money paid for even more people to attend truck driving school. California paid $11.7 million to truck driving schools in the state in 2020, up from just $2.4 million in 2019, primarily from federal money through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The recently-passed infrastructure bill includes initiatives to grow the trucking workforce, including creating an apprenticeship program for drivers under 21 to work in interstate commerce. But the vast majority of the people who pay for truck driving school don’t end up becoming truck drivers.

Oh, it gets worse:

Many people take out debt to get a CDL, or enter into what Viscelli calls “debt peonage”—essentially going to school tuition-free but promising to work for a certain trucking company to pay off their debt. But getting your CDL is just the first step, says Wood. After you get your CDL, most drivers have to get further training, where they team up with another driver and learn how to drive and maneuver a truck, by actually doing it on the road. These other drivers are often not specialized trainers—sometimes they only have a little more experience than the newbie driver. This model is especially detrimental to women, many of whom have filed complaints about being sexually assaulted by their partners, who are responsible for determining whether they get the final okay to drive. Long-haul trucking company CRST settled a lawsuit in May brought by a woman who says she was raped by the lead driver, terminated, and then billed $9,000 for her training.

It’s during this stage that many people drop out, either because their trainers aren’t helpful, or they get intimidated by ice on the road, or because they’re not making much money as a team driver. But long-haul trucking companies move a lot of their freight through student-driver partnerships like these. When student drivers quit, the companies just has more trainees to sub in, fed into the industry by the myth of a trucker shortage. “Over-recruiting is the biggest part of the problem,” says Wood.

Which is why Semuels dislikes the “shortage” narrative:

Blaming supply chain problems on trucker shortages enables trucking companies to recruit more people and charge them for school, only for the students to realize that trucking, as it exists today, is not a desirable profession.

“We need to find ways to attract, recruit and retain drivers,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, on a call about supply chain backlogs last month. ” We’re gonna have to think about new compensation models, benefits packages, etcetera. We want to make this a profession that folks want to come to.”

Let’s stipulate that Semuels is telling one side of the story and may well be cherry-picking especially egregious anecdotes. It’s rather her beat. But, again, the NYT—and even the WSJ—reports she derides in her opener tell a less colorful version of the same story. People are attracted to the industry by the lure of big money and independence and then hit by a reality that is often quite different.

Clearly, a lot of people make driving a truck a long-term career. Doubtless, many of them are in fact doing quite well. But there’s clearly a lot of exploitation of an information gap going on as well. The big money doesn’t really kick in until you’ve been on the job for quite some time and most can’t or won’t put up with the travails long enough to get there. And it’s really hard to blame them.

Now, I simply haven’t studied this issue enough to have an opinion as to whether deregulation is the root cause of these issues, much less whether re-regulation would do more good than harm. But I agree with Semuels that calling well-qualified people who want to drive trucks but are unwilling to do so for low pay and shabby treatment a “shortage” mischaracterizes the problem and misleads more than it informs.

This is already rather long for a blog post but a related story that I find between tagging this one for commentary really needs to be part of this discussion. It’s by FiveThirtyEight‘s Maggie Koerth and titled “Would You Manage 70 Children And A 15-Ton Vehicle For $18 An Hour?” It begins with some interwoven anecdotes that set it up nicely but that are too long to quote here.

As the [school] bus driver shortage continues, parents and drivers, often women on both sides, have been stretched to the breaking point as they try to do more with less — less time, less money, less help, less of a sense of safety and respect. “This problem existed before COVID, but nobody wanted to hear about it, especially the school districts,” said Zina Ronca, a driver supervisor for DuVall Bus Service in West Grove, Pennsylvania, who has been in the industry for nearly two decades. There haven’t been enough school bus drivers nationwide for years. But it took a pandemic to make that shortage visible and painful to more than just the drivers themselves. 

And in that way, what’s happening at Northport Elementary reflects an even bigger problem for schools nationwide. Across the country, reports have documented shortages of substitute teachers, school nurses, cafeteria workers and the paraprofessionals who help teachers manage their workloads and give kids more small-group attention. As with drivers, those shortages existed before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. The problems were there, waiting, and then the pandemic came along and made them simultaneously more visible and more … just more

All these jobs are about service and care, at pay scales that simply aren’t competitive with jobs that use similar skills but don’t require child care balanced precariously on top of other demands. And when the people who do those jobs quit, the effects get tangled up with other parts of the economy and other parts of society. Amid the pandemic, individual workers are making choices for themselves and their families that affect other people’s families and jobs in ways nobody quite expected. The bus driver shortage isn’t just a bus driver shortage — it’s a knot nobody knows how to cut.

The situation is both similar to and different than the truck driver issue. These people do jobs that are essential to the functioning of the society or economy but that aren’t much valued unless they’re not getting done. Truck drivers get paid considerably more, when they’re getting paid, but they’re competing against other drivers for loads. School service workers don’t get paid much and, because there are so many of them, the costs of changing that would be steep.

At year-round, full-time hours — the way the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates an annual wage — the average school bus driver makes more than $39,000 a year. But school bus drivers don’t work year-round, full-time hours. “We’re only guaranteed four hours of pay a day,” Steele said. 

There are no paid holidays or sick days, she and other bus industry experts say. Benefits vary from company to company, and there’s no guaranteed work at all in summer. “Spring break is all unpaid. Every teacher-compensatory day, every snow day, any time they cannot pay us they will,” Steele said. She added that a recent, failed unionization effort among the Robbinsdale bus drivers started in part as a fight for snow-day pay. 

I get why we wouldn’t pay bus drivers during summer break. We technically don’t even pay teachers or college professors for summers (we just stretch their 9-month salary over 12 months). But it’s just outrageous to make people accountable for a bus route and then not pay them if school gets canceled for the day; their time was already committed.

Working as a school bus driver means, essentially, needing another source of income. This is part of why the job has long attracted women — particularly mothers — who were able to work while their children were at school. In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 58.5 percent of all school bus drivers were women. The hours are predictable and short, with a gap in the middle of the day when your time is your own, during which some drivers earn money doing other jobs, like working as a mechanic for the bus company, or doing a different caregiving job in schools. And the job comes with unusual perks like the ability to take the bus home, turning the morning commute into a walk to the driveway. At some bus companies and school districts, drivers have the freedom to take their young children on the bus with them during their rounds — a chance to bring in money without adding to the ever-rising cost of day care. 

But it doesn’t pay enough to live on. For Steele, the job works only because her partner brings in a paycheck and benefits. Other drivers depend on a second job, performed between roughly 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., when they aren’t on the clock. LaShawn Favors, a bus driver in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, had a second part-time job as a paraprofessional in a school while his wife worked from home in the health-care industry. His route didn’t overlap with where his own kids, who lacked reliable bus service, needed to go, so his wife and his daughter’s boyfriend were stuck shuttling the kids to and from school while Favors rushed from one job to another and back to the first.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. The man who drove my school bus forty years ago, Mr. Green, was an elderly Black retiree who did a little farming on the side. But we’re still running too much of the economy (and the school system, in particular) as though stay-at-home moms were the norm and a part-time job to supplement the breadwinner’s paycheck was just some extra spending money.

COVID didn’t make the job hard, it just made it harder.

Pay is the problem, and COVID made it worse by threatening the unique benefits that kept people driving buses, despite the low pay, to begin with. Older drivers suddenly had to deal with the increased risk of sickness and death, risks that haven’t really been properly calculated anywhere. No one knows how many bus drivers are no longer in their jobs because they died from COVID-19 infections acquired on the job, because no one is keeping track.

Other drivers had no real choice but to find other work during the long months when schools were remote and had no need of them, while drivers who were mothers found themselves trying to juggle home and work in a job they’d taken precisely so they wouldn’t have to do this in the first place. When schools moved to hybrid systems, the districts needed drivers every day, but those drivers’ own kids’ schedules may not have been in sync, said Erin Ducharme, vice chair of membership for the Women in Buses Council and an executive at Bloom Tour and Charter Services in Taunton, Massachusetts.

There’s a whole lot more to the piece and I commend it to you.

In our long-running national debate over immigration policy, we have become accustomed to hearing about “jobs Americans won’t do.” But, of course, we’re mostly talking about jobs Americans won’t do for incredibly low pay, job security, and benefits under horrendous working conditions. We mostly decided that, in agriculture at least, we were willing to import cheap labor rather than change how we treated and compensated people.

In the COVID world, the category of “jobs Americans won’t do” seems to have expanded markedly. It’s hard to get a complete picture of the economy but it appears that a lot of people simply retired, many of them much earlier than they’d previously planned. And a significant number of second-earners finally realized the modest increase in household standard of living wasn’t worth the sacrifice (compounded by erratic school schedules and the “bus driver shortage” making flexibility crucial). Clearly, too, some number of people who were in crappy jobs pre-pandemic have found other ways to make a living. And, again, I don’t think we have a handle on the numbers for these categories.

We may not be that far from a future where our long-haul transports, school buses, and taxis are self-driving. That would alleviate the need for humans to do jobs that are inherently unsatisfying while creating the new problem of how those displaced from those jobs will make a living instead. In the interim, though, we’re likely going to have to treat the people we need to do those jobs like humans.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    He can’t tell brokers he doesn’t want to wait around, because they’ll find someone who will take the load, especially because rates are high right now.

    “If I refuse it, someone else will take it,” he told me.

    Every MBA drone’s dream.

    As far as school buses, a lot of teachers pick that up for the extra pay.

  2. Mikey says:

    I can tell you all you want to know about the school bus driver dilemma because my wife actually is one. Her district was always 100+ drivers short even before COVID and now it’s over 200. Supervisory personnel who haven’t actually driven runs for years are back behind the wheel. Some drivers are doing “double-back” runs where they pick up a busload of students and drop them off, then go back to the same stops for more because the district doesn’t have enough drivers to send two buses.

    One thing that’s pissing us off is the district raised the starting pay for new drivers, but hasn’t given experienced drivers a similar bump, which results in a driver fresh out of training making as much on day one as my wife does with five years of experience and additional certifications. This is supposed to be rectified with “salary reviews” next month, but promises, promises, blah blah blah. This also leads to drivers leaving for neighboring districts that offer big bonuses for experience and pay raises to match.

  3. James Joyner says:


    Some drivers are doing “double-back” runs where they pick up a busload of students and drop them off, then go back to the same stops for more because the district doesn’t have enough drivers to send two buses.

    Oh, believe me, we’re well aware. My youngest is in 5th grade and my oldest in 7th, which means two different buses half an hour apart morning and afternoon. And, because we have a century-old overpass that’s too low for a school bus to fit through, we get to drive and wait around. Quite often, the oldest’s bus doesn’t arrive until the youngest’s has already dropped her off because of the double-back. And there’s no consistency and seldom any warning issued to parents, so we have no idea when it’s happening. (There’s a semi-useful Here Comes the Bus app but it’s not always reliable.) The whole thing is madness.

    I guess the “new guy makes more than the old guy” thing isn’t unique to the bus drivers, as I’ve seen it even with college professors. But it’s definitely a demotivating situation.

  4. Mimai says:

    The simple regulate vs. deregulate framing of these things frustrates. It demands that we take a side. Which then gets reinforced by our cognitive-emotional-social apparatus. As with most (all?) things, it’s about trade-offs.

    The truck driver I know (very well) is frustrated with the ham-fisted nature of these policies, which ignore context and don’t allow for any flexibility. This is captured in the cited anecdote about the clock running out on Mr. Wagner.

    You see a similar thing wrt to medical residencies. Regulating a max number of hours per day addresses real and critical problems (eg, residents getting overworked and underslept) and also creates new ones (eg, fractured care, lost opportunities).

    Rather than grapple with these trade-offs, the regulate vs. deregulate framing allows us to elide them and remain ever so comfy in our pillows of priors.

  5. Mimai says:


    Quick clarification: The truck driver I know is also grateful for some of these policies that have addressed real problems in the industry. I add this so as to not give the impression that they are against regulation. They are not.

  6. wr says:

    We decided as a nation under Reagan and going forward that the only people who counted were the ones at the very top. Everyone else was just there to be exploited. The government, for the most part, stopped protecting the people at the bottom and instead cradled their bosses.

    Forty years of a culture in which the CEO is considered worth the pay of thousands of workers finally leads to where we are now — with all the gains going to the very top, and an unbearable life for many below.

    And if we try to address this at all, the Republicans — with the help of useful idiots like Kyrsten Sinema — scream that it’s socialism.

  7. wr says:

    But let’s not forget the role of the white working class in all this. Because instead of joining together and fighting for what’s been taken from them, they listen to the people at the top who tell them that the real reason their lives suck is that the black and brown people are stealing it all away, and they should be vigilant and angry and buy lots of guns to protect themselves from this ravening horde. And time after time, when Republicans they vote for make it even harder for them to survive, they choose to believe it’s the fault of that Black guy down the street… and that the Tucker Carlsons of the world really have their best interests at heart.

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “In the interim, though, we’re likely going to have to treat the people we need to do those jobs like humans.”

    Something which applies to far more jobs that the ones mentioned. For example, Amazon warehouse worker turnover rates were 150% per year before COVID.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve wasted a few minutes complaining to both WAPO and NYT that they write as though every reader will read the entire story. This was particularly egregious in NYT’s deep dives into the Clinton Foundation. A half page on their search for malfeasance in the Foundation with the eventual admission they’d found none in the third from last paragraph. Most people read the headline and maybe skim the first few paragraphs. It’s a commonplace that headlines don’t match stories. If the headline misleads, they’ve misled most of the readership.

  10. JKB says:

    Read today, fresh for winter, snowplow driver shortages

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @wr: Most people will eagerly say politicians lie. Then they’ll turn around and believe every word from FOX “News” and TFG. Is there an emoji for slowly and sadly shaking one’s head side to side?

  12. gVOR08 says:

    The “shortage” of drivers, the backups at the ports, inflation, the weird spot shortages (my local PUBLIX hasn’t had Gatorade for a few weeks. ??), the lack of waitstaff, the price of gasoline, etc. are all signs of a rapidly recovering economy. And everybody hates Biden for it. I blame the supposedly liberal MSM.

  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    One thing to note here is that a lot of the stuff shouldn’t be moving around on trucks to begin with, except for a lot of federal policies the subsidize truck transportation and shift cargo that would otherwise be on freight trains to the highways.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen an ad for long haul drivers, but I’m wondering whose getting a dollar a mile for driving? The last ad I saw was for a company that was boasting about paying $0.36 a mile. I suppose that an independent might be making a dollar a mile–and paying Social Security and Employment Tax, and buying his own fuel, meals on the road, truck maintenance, tires, and whatnot (let’s not forget insurances, fees, reserves, and employer taxes that self-employed people pay). The last time I was related to that business, independent owner operators were netting roughly 50%. I don’t know whether a dollar a mile is enough to make it pay. (And I didn’t think it was a good job 45 years ago before deregulation, either.)

  15. We had a precariously balanced economy pre-Covid (e.g., child care, supply-chain, service workers’ pay/conditions, to name three big ones) and the pandemic has upset that applecart in ways I really don’t think we understand. I think these articles fit into that broader situation.

    And it is the complexity of pandemic and its effects and the economy that make me annoyed at things like the “shortage” narrative criticized above or treatments of inflation like we are back in the 1970s (it is all too simplistic).

  16. Sleeping Dog says:


    The northeastern states have temporary LED signs up recruiting plow drivers with trucks. One report stated that a town is offering up to $300 an hour for a driver w/truck. I expect that the truck owners expenses would also need to come out of that rate.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And it is the complexity of pandemic and its effects and the economy that make me annoyed at things like the “shortage” narrative criticized above or treatments of inflation like we are back in the 1970s (it is all too simplistic).

    Yes. We’re trying to piece this together on the fly and falling back on what we know is normal. But it sure looks like something we haven’t seen before at this point.

  18. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “Is there an emoji for slowly and sadly shaking one’s head side to side?”

    I think I need a blowing-my-brains-out emoji…

  19. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I wonder how this will shake out. Snowplowing–as you no doubt know–is a skill requiring training and experience. You can’t just hop behind the wheel of a truck with a plow attached and merrily clear the roads.

  20. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    @James Joyner:

    Arnold Kling has been writing about this for quite some time now. His proposed macro model (PSST: Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade) contrasts with the more widely accepted “GDP factory” model.

    An early paper spelling out the PSST model.

    And a recent one pertaining to the pandemic.

  21. EddieInCA says:

    As I’ve said repeatedly, anyone who wants to drive under safe working conditions, and make a living wage, and have full benefits, needs to join the Teamsters. In film and TV, Teamster Local 399 is letting in “permits” to become Teamsters because there actually is a shortage of qualified drivers for film and TV productions.

    Rates start at $32 an hour for the most simple job – van driver; where you drive a van for 12 hours back and forth from set to base camp. But too many of these idiots think “Union = socialism”, and are screwing themselves out of a great opportunity. There are teamster locals all over the country looking for drivers. And there are a lot of companies that would be better served it they were unionized.

  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I just returned from a road trip to MN from NH and numerous trucks that I saw on the interstates advertised a dollar per mile. I don’t know if that rate was for owner/operators who need to cover the trucks expenses or for a driver in a company owned truck where expenses are on the company’s dime.

  23. Michael Cain says:

    @Stormy Dragon: America’s freight rail service is simply not compatible with the “just in time” thing everyone wants to do. They barely manage scheduled delivery at all. My neighbor the retired engineer describes it as, “These rail cars will move when there’s enough ready to roll: maybe today, maybe next Tuesday. How long to get across the mess that is Chicago? Maybe one day, maybe three. And lord help you if the load has to cross the Mississippi when the river’s up.”

  24. Sleeping Dog says:


    This year is the first that I’ve heard of the problem, but I suspect like the bus and OTR trucker issue, it has been festering for several years. While ‘retirements,’ may exacerbate the problem, the real issue is more likely related to efficiency in the construction industry having minimal equipment on hand and that construction has become a year round business even in cold weather states due to new materials and processes.

    IIRC correctly, the ads for driver/trucks specified a 15 ton minimum, that would eliminate all the lawn service operators as few of the are using more than 2 ton trucks. 15 ton would be chassis’ like Kenworth, Western, Mack etc. If fewer of those vehicles are sitting idle in the winter due to use in construction, that is a problem.

  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Cain:

    America’s freight rail service is simply not compatible with the “just in time” thing everyone wants to do.

    But after a half-century of subsidizing road transport, is the state of the freight rail system a cause or a symptom? If rail infrastructure had the same support as highway infrastructure, the freight system would be more capable, and if trucks weren’t hugely subsidized by passenger vehicles, there would be more demand for freight, which would make scheduling more reliable.

    This is like the transit equivalent of people saying we can’t have universal care because it would overload emergency rooms when lack of coverage is the main thing driving people to use emergency rooms as primary care.

  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Also, if changes in transit policy make JIT less profitable, so what? Our entire transit policy shouldn’t be based around enabling a particular business model.

  27. JKB says:

    Not sure I’d yearn for tight government regulation and control of all truck transport by the Teamsters. I’m old enough to remember the Teamsters strike in the early ’70s. As well as to enjoy the who independent trucker genre of films, where independents had to fight the local organized crime controlled shipper cartels.

    That being said, pieced together, I believe the problems are in the interfaces and in the past, the inefficiencies could be dumped on the truckers. Such as the anecdote in the stories above of a the trucker arriving for a load and the load hasn’t even been picked or processed yet.

    As for the container side, that is apparently a speciality business. The drivers have to be approved for port entry by DHS, which isn’t cheap. And when they arrive with an order for a container, it takes hours to find a compatible chassis so the driver’s workday is shot.

    And apparently, not all containers are interchangeable with chassis. In the past, apparently it stayed company oriented, but they started mixing them, but no one sorted out the chassis matching side now they the chassis are spread over the whole port. This latter seems like it need for adding locators to the chassis that can report on its mobility and loaded state.

    I did see the tail end of a report of a project using rail from the port to, I can’t remember Utah, or somewhere, where the containers were processed into the road transport side. Always seemed like an idea to me, just to deal with the urban encroachment on container ports and the urban road congestion. Dedicated tracks with trains running on a loop from the pier side to a remote marshaling site outside the congestion. Obviously, there would be resistance from current beneficiaries and it it likely too late for such tracks without social justice warrior problems as some imminent domain takings would be needed.

  28. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    In the 90’s BNSF was my customer and on several occasions had meetings at the DFW operations center. In the main operations area there were several big screen movie theater style screens ( the ones you would want to see Star Wars on) that showed every piece of track under BNSF purview. What surprised me was few rail lines the big operators like BNSF, UP, CN and CSX actually operate on. My contact explained that most of the rail lines we come across are operated by short lines that serve geographic areas. The big operators will drop rail cars in regional yards for the short lines to pick up and sometimes a car might pass through several short lines before reaching the destination.

    To add to this craziness, anything crossing the Mississippi switches rail road’s hauling the freight. Another level of craziness was that the western carriers, BNSF and UP, were reticent to send their best rolling stock east. These were in the days of Conrail, that was operationally underfunded and operated with obsolete rolling stock. Western railroads would send a shiny new freight car east and get back a broke down 40 yo one.

    It is no wonder that the RR’s stick to bulk cargo like grain, coal and containers.

    Japan, China and Europe all have efficient freight rail operations, because they are organized from the top down, even if the operators themselves are private companies.

  29. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I guess the “new guy makes more than the old guy” thing isn’t unique to the bus drivers, as I’ve seen it even with college professors. But it’s definitely a demotivating situation.

    Oh, it’s motivating. It may not be motivating the behavior the bosses want, but it’s motivating.

  30. Tony W says:

    but it appears that a lot of people simply retired, many of them much earlier than they’d previously planned. And a significant number of second-earners finally realized the modest increase in household standard of living wasn’t worth the sacrifice

    On a side note, I’m of the opinion that the current inflationary pressures on the economy are entirely deliberate, and largely outside any COVID-influence.

    If we can’t persuade people to take jobs at current wages, we can force them to by making everything more expensive.

    Pearl-clutching media reports on inflation are a critical element of the equation because they create a fear response. In this context, inflation is a way to keep the peasants in line.

  31. Gustopher says:

    In our long-running national debate over immigration policy, we have become accustomed to hearing about “jobs Americans won’t do.” But, of course, we’re mostly talking about jobs Americans won’t do for incredibly low pay, job security, and benefits under horrendous working conditions. We mostly decided that, in agriculture at least, we were willing to import cheap labor rather than change how we treated and compensated people.

    Careful, you’re sounding like a socialist…

    We’ve also been importing a whole lot less cheap workers than usual, because of the Trump immigration policies. This has led to genuine worker shortages at the bottom rungs, and with our Just In Time economy, that has caused delays and shortages that have rippled upwards to where the middle class is noticing.

    And combined with a style of deregulation that puts risks onto the former-workers-now-independent-contractors, this is clobbering the lower class American workers — the truck driver getting paid only $150 to wait a full day would mind a lot less if the wait was compensated at what they would make if they were driving.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    You can’t just hop behind the wheel of a truck with a plow attached and merrily clear the roads.

    Yeah. I was wondering how this $300/day for a driver with a truck thing was working. Who has a truck with a snowplow attachment? (I’m assuming that the attachment that some guys have to plow their driveway is probably inadequate, but would be fine with a “NO! You’re wrong, you ignint cracker, you!” reply.)

  33. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: @Just nutha ignint cracker: I gather anecdotally that a lot of local lawn service companies become snow removal companies in the off-season.

  34. Monala says:

    Self-driving school buses would still need an adult human to ride them, to ensure that younger children get on and off where they are supposed to, and to prevent fights and bullying among older children. I imagine the issues causing driver shortages would also cause shortages in those adult bus supervisors.

  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: So your understanding of the trucking industry is based primarily on Direct-t0-Video action films. Got it! 😐

    …anyone who wants to drive under safe working conditions, and make a living wage, and have full benefits, needs to join the Teamsters.

    That was the reality when I was in the produce business, too. In fact, we contracted with a few independent truckers who joined the Teamsters specifically for the access to health benefits and the ability to contribute to a stable pension fund.

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: In fresh produce, the main problem with rail was that delivery to our warehouse was 24-48 hours after the car arrived in the yard. Workable for potatoes and onions, not for most other items. (And I also have a story about a rail car full of lettuce that was lost in the yard and arrived 5 days later. That one was a mess. 🙁 )

  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: That would certainly explain our road plowing protocols here. Fortunately, snow is still rare in our area (but we are experiencing some interesting climate changes).

  38. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    The equipment for plowing a driveway isn’t the same as the kind for plowing a street or highway. Nor are the vehicles. At least that’s the case around here (northeastern Mass.).

    @James Joyner:
    They do indeed. The people who mow your lawn and trim your hedges in the summer plow your driveway in the winter.

  39. Gustopher says:

    @Monala: Self-driving anything will need a lot of supervision.

    People being what people are, self-driving taxis will likely spawn a whole bunch of rolling recreational activities that lead to the seats being sticky.

    Self-driving long-haul trucks are less problematic, but might change the incentives for mischief (block them so they have to stop and steal the cargo, or just set them on fire to watch a flaming truck drive off)

  40. JKB says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Actually, these were big, sometimes blockbuster, movies. No direct-to-video since video wasn’t a thing yet. And there’s the number 1 song, ‘Convoy’.

    It’s an indication of the zeitgeist of the time. Teamsters are great, I remember when Jimmy Hoffa went on trial. The Teamsters’ pension fund built Las Vegas for the Mob.

  41. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    Local lawn care companies plowing snow works in Virginia, as it did when I lived in StL, but in the snow belt when you are trying to push 8-12″ of heavy wet snow, nah. The typical plow around here looks something like this:

    Note that truck has a salt spreader body on it, most would have the typical dump body.

    To be clear, I’m talking about plowing streets and highways, not driveways.

  42. Michael Cain says:

    But after a half-century of subsidizing road transport, is the state of the freight rail system a cause or a symptom?

    I’m a westerner, so have to get my head past the facts that the railroads here were all basically gifted their right-of-way, generally refuse to share it with any sort of urban transit, have been allowed almost unlimited consolidation, and gone through Chapter 11 bankruptcy multiple times, shedding massive debts, screwing stockholders, yet retaining all those assets.

  43. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: We don’t see many ads on trucks in the part of the PNW in which I live, but the few that I’ve seen were almost always for owner operators. Don’t recall seeing any mileage rate offers. As I noted earlier, it’s been a couple (or more) years since I saw an ad, but the going rate was 36 cents a mile for company drivers. In my town, there’s a guy who runs log trucks seeking drivers at $24/hour IIRC. But that’s going to be mostly local driving and will total just under $50K for straight time. Given that an average house costs ~$200k here, I’m guessing one’s not raising a family on that money.

  44. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: My Teamster pension has worked just fine since I retired. The Western States fund was the first privately administered Teamster pension, though. And I have no particular objections to investing in Las Vegas as the returns have been good and the business enterprises have been more honorable than ANYTHING FG did.

  45. JKB says:

    I just learned on the port side of the supply problem is that the ports of Long Beach and Oakland are owned by the cities of Long Beach and Oakland for instance. Hardly entities likely to prioritized port modernization. Especially since on the west coast the ILWU union contracts expire July 1, 2022 and they aren’t asking for more money, but are asking for no more automation and robotics. Given the ports are local politician controlled, the union members will have even more influence. So modernizing the ports on the West Coast is probably a long way off.

    In addition, with the contract negotiations opening next may, look for port slow downs, maybe even a strike next summer.

    Perhaps such will spur improvements on the trucking side so that cargo shifting into GOMEX and East Coast ports will be able to move in behind the West Coast ports. Ships that are sailing now are contracting for other than the clogged ports for their delivery port which will be an audition.

  46. Mu Yixiao says:

    I’ll read through the whole post tomorrow and comment in more detail, but…

    The news articles are rather one-sided. And saying the trucking industry is “deregulated” is a joke.

    My brother recent quit driving–as an owner-operator–because the regulations are so burdensome. The new electronically-enforced rules (tying “working time” to “when your engine is running”, and including “taking your tractor to the shop”) severely slashed the work that OOs can do–and therefore get paid for.

    Trucking is one of the most strictly regulated (blue-collar) professions there is. Can you name another profession where a business owner is told how many hours they’re allowed to work?

  47. Barry says:

    James: “It’s easy to see what attracts so many people to the business. Even $1 a mile is really good money for someone with relatively little education and training. Six hundred miles (10 hours at 60mph) a day for five days is $3000 a week. Do that 50 weeks a year, and you’re making $150,000. That’s good money even in the DC area, let alone in most of the rest of the country.”

    James, you posted this after an article laid out the fact that drivers are forced to wait for many hours, at their own expense, on their own dime.

    Imagine if you were paid $100 per teaching hour but that included prep, classes casually canceled, and classes casually rescheduled to 2 AM with no notice (while you stood in the hallway for that time).

  48. Barry says:

    For $300/day snowplowing, I will lay money that that means:
    1) Only on days that you are working,
    2) You have to be on call from Nov-March.
    3) you can get called on short notice.
    4) You plow until the streets are clear.

    And many more et ceteras.

  49. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: I was explaining the disconnect between the large number of people who are trained truck drivers and the relatively small number of people willing to drive trucks under present conditions. The job sounds great in theory but the reality is wildly divergent.

  50. SC_Birdflyte says:

    I think Warren Buffett once said, “When the tide goes out, you can see who’s swimming naked.” The pandemic was the tide going out with the force of a receding tsunami. The supply chain disruptions, resulting inflation, and essential workers being treated as though they were cattle, all testify to the accuracy of Buffett’s observation.

  51. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Anything that helps kill the evil of Six Sigma and it’s bastard offspring is OK with me. JIT in time is a model that runs on the idea that “nothing will go wrong” or it won’t be “just in time”. The idea of not having a small stockpile of necessary items for when things go inevitably wrong has always seemed mad to me; what they decry as “waste” is what previous generations would have called “backup”.

  52. grumpy realist says:

    @KM: Having lived in Japan for over a decade, I can tell you that JIT in Japan simply has meant [storage in warehouses] –> [storage in trucks stuck in traffic jams]. The idea behind JIT is great, or would be if you didn’t have to have at least some slop built into the system to handle emergencies.

    One of the other proposed solutions has been the introduction of autonomous vehicles, particularly truck convoys. (I can talk your ear off about the patent applications that have been filed on this, sigh.) Given the comments made above about the disorganisation of the present system, my impression is that the problems afflicting the trucking industry aren’t the problems any issued patent will be addressing.