A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the concerns of bus drivers Columbus, Ohio about the threat of driverless vehicles. Their concerns centered on the potential loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs of bus drivers and other employees and the negative economic impact that would result.
This job loss is symptomatic of the growing disparity in earnings as middle-class as wages drop and jobs disappear. This week, I want to look at another traditional middle-class job that is in jeopardy.
Recently, I read an article from the New York Times that discussed the concerns of long-haul truck drivers. If you spend any time on the road, you understand the importance of trucking in getting merchandise to warehouses, raw materials to factories, and supplies to schools and businesses. There are 1.7 million people working as long-haul drivers in the U.S. Truck drivers have traditionally been well-paying jobs with decent benefits and job security.
Unfortunately, this is becoming less true. Transportation wages have fallen by a third since the early 1970’s accounting for inflation. In addition to the lower wages, working conditions have declined. Turnover at large for-hire fleets runs 80 percent a year, according to a trade group.
This is not the result of driverless trucks, which are still in the future. We are not sending jobs to or from foreign countries. It is caused by indifference to the needs of drivers and their inability to do anything about it. The Times article cites one significant factor in the declining wages, a decline in the number of unionized truck and transportation workers. They cite:
“…using the data at unionstats we can see that a drastic fall in trucker unionization took place during the 1980s: 38 percent of ‘heavy truck’ drivers covered by unions in 1983, already down to 25 percent by 1991. It’s not quite comparable, but only 13 percent of “drivers/sales workers and truck drivers” were covered [in 2016].”
Without unions to represent drivers and work to maintain their standard of living, the real wages and benefits have declined. Working conditions have deteriorated. The attractiveness of the job as a good opportunity to provide for workers and their families is a thing of the past.
There is still a demand for truck drivers and plenty of new employees to fill the openings. Training schools are found in most areas promising employment following conclusion of their programs. The Times article points out trucking is one of the few good alternatives for workers without higher education, citing a survey that found 17 percent of truckers had less than a high school diploma. The author states, “Some have lost better-paying manufacturing jobs in the continuing deindustrialization of America. Others have spent years knocking on the door of the middle class in minimum-wage jobs in fast food or retail. To them, trucking is a step up.”
The jobs these workers are finding are not the well-paying jobs of the past. As one 27-year veteran driver put it, “We’re throwaway people. Nobody cares about us. Everybody’s perception of a truck driver is we clog up traffic, we get in the way, we pollute the environment.”
Over the last decade, we have seen well-paying jobs disappear in a variety of fields in manufacturing, mining, services, and now trucking. Each of these losses contributes to the decline of the middle class and wage disparity. The long-term impact of these losses on our economy and society is staggering. Unions, which may be the best stabilizing factor, are under intense attack from those who benefit from the disparity. It is clear upper management and the current administration are not interested in helping these workers.