'It Takes a Peculiar Form of Logic to Cut Pay Steadily and Then Be Shocked That Fewer People Want to Do the Job.'

via New York TimesA newly suggested “skilled worker shortage” in the trucking industry provide an interesting example of the current economic ailments facing the American workforce.  More truckers are needed, owners say, while average pay for truckers is on the decline, a scenario which goes against the basic principles of economics.  As the New York Times correctly points out, the problem is that companies are refusing to adequately pay their employees, thus stifling interest in the empty jobs.  

Swift Transportation, a massive trucking company, recently saw their stock drop 18 points in a single day, based mostly on the fact that it had too much business and not enough drivers.  In their quarterly earnings statement, Swift wrote:

“We were constrained by the challenging driver market.  Our driver turnover and unseated truck count were higher than anticipated.”

But NYT writer Neil Irwin explains that when presented with facts, the skilled workers shortage doesn’t add up:

Consider this: The American Trucking Associations has estimated that there was a shortage of 30,000 qualified drivers earlier this year, a number on track to rise to 200,000 over the next decade. Trucking companies are turning down business for want of workers.

Yet the idea that there is a huge shortage of truck drivers flies in the face of a jobless rate of more than 6 percent, not to mention Economics 101. The most basic of economic theories would suggest that when supply isn’t enough to meet demand, it’s because the price — in this case, truckers’ wages — is too low. Raise wages, and an ample supply of workers should follow.

But corporate America has become so parsimonious about paying workers outside the executive suite that meaningful wage increases may seem an unacceptable affront. In this environment, it may be easier to say “There is a shortage of skilled workers” than “We aren’t paying our workers enough,” even if, in economic terms, those come down to the same thing.

Irwin uses Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers to further illustrate that the only thing keeping people from taking these jobs is low wages:

Even as trucking companies and their trade association bemoan the driver shortage, truckers — or as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers — were paid 6 percent less, on average, in 2013 than a decade earlier, adjusted for inflation. It takes a peculiar form of logic to cut pay steadily and then be shocked that fewer people want to do the job.

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