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Trucking firms face crisis with drivers shortage

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Faced with what trucking experts describe as the worst labor shortage in the industry's history, recruiters are canvassing cities and holding job fairs to entice new drivers.

Fueled mostly by retirements, the driver shortage grew dire, industry economists say, starting in 2000 when average wages in construction and other blue-collar jobs surpassed those of long-haul drivers.

With predictions that the current shortage of 20,000 drivers will grow nearly fivefold within a decade, trucking companies are offering generous 401(k), stock option, and health care packages to new recruits and cash bonuses and prizes to drivers who refer viable candidates.

Since more than three-quarters of all goods in the United States are shipped by truck, it is only a matter of time, Swain said, before the shortage causes delays in products hitting the shelves and leads to consumer price increases because of rising transportation costs.

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Despite the 7.4 million Americans out of work as of last December, and the recent round of layoffs in manufacturing industries, trucking has struggled to find workers in part because the lifestyle is so grueling.

Since 2000, drivers' wages have started to rebound, though they still have not caught up with construction, according to the association.

In 2004, the average annual pay for a truck driver was $34,920, and for a construction worker it was $37,890, according to the Department of Labor.

Union truck drivers make on average about $60,000, and roughly 10 percent of all truck drivers in the country are unionized, an economist with the Teamsters said.

The driver shortfall is expected to worsen in coming years since about 219,000 of the country's 1.3 million long-haul truckers are over 55 and are likely to retire in the next 10 years.

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