Feb. 26, 2010— -- The long-haul trucking industry is looking for more than a few good men -- and women.
Despite the weak economy and a national unemployment rate hovering just under 10 percent, trucking companies report a shortage of long-haul drivers -- a problem federal labor officials and trucking officials say will grow worse over the next 10 years.
"We expect we will have a sizable driver shortage in the less popular driving jobs," said Clayton Boyce with the American Trucking Association. "The least desirable jobs are the ones where you are driving a truck for weeks or more and never getting home."
The implications for consumers are clear.
"If the jobs go unfilled or if there is a need to raise wages in order to attract workers into those occupations, I think either thing would have a tendency to raise the cost of goods," said Eric Thompson, professor of economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Tim Aschoff deals with the problem every day. As a vice president for Crete Carrier Corp., a Nebraska-based trucking company that operates 5,500 trucks across 48 states, his responsibilities include driver training and recruiting. In some years, Aschoff said, the company may hire 300 to 350 drivers a year. "We are always looking to hire," he said.
Aschoff also acknowledged the effect this shortage could have on consumers. "It really comes down to simple economics -- supply and demand," Aschoff said. "If we're not able to get enough drivers to fill our trucks that we have out there that handle our customer's goods, we're going to have to pay the drivers more to be able to do that. As we pay the drivers more, that cost will have to be transferred throughout the food chain."
Supermarket chain Hy-Vee operates 228 stores in eight states in the upper-Midwest. Ruth Comer, spokesperson for Hy-Vee, said the chain could be forced to increase prices because of the trucking shortage.
"All of our costs ultimately affect prices," Comer said.
"When we have an increased cost in transportation, we try to make adjustments wherever possible in our operating costs to keep costs down for our consumers. But there are times when those costs do show up in our products."