If one picture can save 1,000 words, then maybe Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman’s citing of the huge decline in average hourly wages of Production and Non-supervisory Employees in Transportation and Warehousing since the 1970s goes a long way to explaining the current supply-chain bottleneck and concurrent inflation surge.
It explains even more—why so many Americans are refusing to return to their workplaces. The COVID pandemic has exposed the consequences of the overall decline in working Americans’ wages and standard of living that has shrunk the middle class and endangered our democracy.
Of course, the coincidence of declining wages and truck-driver shortages doesn’t necessarily spell causation, but at a time of soaring demand by consumers and producers for the products they deliver, they have one of the most demanding 24/7 jobs for less than college-educated workers.
And there is much anecdotal evidence from independent truckers that confirms the existing pay scale is not worth it. In October, the American Trucking Association said the U.S. needed 80,000 more truck drivers.
Shauntai Robinson, an owner operator out of the ports in South Carolina, in a post on Medium cited by Yahoo News, said that after 16 years in the industry, she was beginning to question the viability of a career as a truck driver.
"There are thousands of valid class A CDL holders, across the United States, who have elected to not drive a truck anymore," Robinson wrote. "These people have not relinquished their credentials. Instead, these valuable people have been forced to seek alternative forms of employment in order to be able to provide for their families."
On average, truck drivers working full time, year-round, earn about $43,252 annually, lower than the median for all full-time workers ($47,016), but exceed those of other blue-collar jobs, says the US Census Bureau.
The huge decline in transportation and warehousing wages actually mirrors the sharp decline in average hourly wages of all production and non-supervisory workers that began in 1980, as can be seen from the above FRED graph (gray bars are recessions).
That was when Big Business began its lobbying campaign to influence economic policies—morphing into what came to be known as trickle-down economic policies with the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Reaganomics accelerated the deregulation of whole industries that began in the 1970s, with directly suppressing the collective bargaining rights of workers to such an extent that there are now 26 so-called right-to-work (red) states that say a worker can work in a company employing unionized workers, and enjoying its benefits, without having to pay union dues!
The millions of workers holding back from reentering the workforce because of the worst pandemic in 100 years has perhaps awakened more than truck drivers to the need to hold out for a better economic system that has impoverished them since the 1980s, when conservative economic policies took away workers’ rights as well as drastically reduced their incomes.
President Biden’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed just in time to make a difference for working families by providing jobs that can support families.
“The bill is a significant down payment on the $2.5 trillion infrastructure investment gap that was identified in the 2021 Report Card and will benefit American businesses and families for years to come,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), as I reported last week.
The COVID pandemic is bringing about a wholesale transformation of American capitalism, including an opportunity for American workers to have a voice in transforming it.
Harlan Green © 2021
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