Truckload driver pay increased to nearly $70,000 in 2021, survey shows

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 944 views 

Truck driver compensation rose in 2021 as demand for drivers increased amid a labor shortage and strong demand for goods, according to new survey results. The median truckload driver earned more than $69,000 last year, up nearly 11% from 2020 and 18% from 2019.

Trade group American Trucking Associations (ATA) released Wednesday (Aug. 10) the results of its 2022 ATA Driver Compensation Study for which more than 135,000 drivers and nearly 20,000 independent contractors were asked about their compensation, including pay rates, bonuses and benefits. The survey, which was completed in early 2022, showed that nearly 60% of respondents said they would increase driver pay this year.

“The data supports what industry sources have been saying for some time — the driver shortage has been great for drivers who saw their salaries rise last year,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “Pay increases were broad-based across the industry, for example, between salary increases and bonuses, the average truckload driver saw a wage increase of 10.9% last year.”

In a conference call on Wednesday, Costello noted the nearly $70,000 compensation amount includes bonuses but not benefits, which he said are good. He also said about 80% of for-hire truckload drivers are paid by the mile, with the remaining 20% receiving hourly pay or salary.

Driver turnover is about 70% to 75% in the industry, and the majority of this can be attributed to churn, or when a driver switches from one carrier to another, said Costello, adding that sign-on bonuses play a part in this. Bonuses range from $1,500 up to $5,000. Some have been as high as $10,000.

“If you’re a driver and you have a good driving record and you can pass a drug screening, you can change jobs for any reason you want,” he said. “Here it is 11:39 a.m. Drivers could have a job in a couple of hours. They’re in that much high demand.

“If they go to a company and they don’t like the routes or…for any reason, they don’t like the way a dispatcher talks to them or something, they can change jobs.”

Costello also noted that final mile drivers of truckload companies earn about $65,000. But these jobs are more labor intensive as final mile drivers are more likely to handle freight, he said, while most long-haul drivers don’t touch freight.

In May 2020, the ATA released the previous Driver Compensation Study that showed driver pay rose nearly $6,000 to about $58,000 in 2019, from 2017. In October 2021, the ATA announced the driver shortage reached a record high of 80,000, up from 61,000 in 2018.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $48,310 as of May 2021. In Arkansas, the 32,560 truck drivers earn an average of $49,090. Compared to other states, Arkansas has the highest concentration of jobs and location quotient in the field, with more than 27 drivers per 1,000 jobs and a location quotient of 2.02. A location quotient greater than 1 indicates the occupation has a higher share of employment than the U.S. average.

In April 2022, Bentonville-based retailer Walmart announced its drivers could make up to $110,000 in their first year. According to ATA’s new survey, the median salary for a private fleet driver in 2021 was $85,000.

In May 2022, nearly 20,000 long-haul truck driving jobs were added to the U.S. workforce, according to the National Transportation Institute. Since the spring 2020 downturn, long-haul jobs have risen by 4.3%.

Following are other highlights from ATA’s new survey:

  • More than 90% of truckload fleets increased pay in 2021, with the average increase at 10.9%. Also, 96% of fleets offered referral bonuses for new drivers, and 54% offered sign-on bonuses.
  • All less-than-truckload carriers increased pay in 2021, with the median wage hitting $73,000.
  • Non-drayage owner-operators saw estimated median gross revenues of $235,000 in 2021, while owner-operators in the drayage sector reported median gross revenues of $164,000.

“The driver shortage, coupled with increased demand for goods in the post-pandemic economy, really drove driver salaries,” Costello said. “These pay increases should put to lie the myths about the nature of this job — trucking is a path that can provide a well-paid career for Americans looking for more.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Freight Transportation Services Index rose to a record high in June. The index, which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, rose by 1.7% in June, from May. The index also was up 4.6% from June 2021. The rise can be attributed to increases in trucking, rail carloads, air freight and water. Rail intermodal and pipeline declined.