According to a new analysis of U.S. census data by NPR, by some measures truck driving just might be the most dominant job in America.
In 29 states truck drivers made up the majority of full-time working adults in 2014, NPR found. The trucking industry, it seems, is immune to the effects of globalization and automation — two trends that have sent blue-collar jobs in the U.S. spiraling toward extinction over the last four decades.
The analysis illustrates how much the job scene has changed over time. In 1987, the most popular job was secretary and in several states, it was farmer.
There are a few caveats to NPR’s analysis, though. The data they used, furnished by the University of Minnesota’s Population Center, which curates publicly available data for the general public, can be sliced and diced in a number of different ways because of how the U.S. Census categorizes certain occupations.
Truck drivers, for example, can include delivery men working for UPS or Fedex, as well as the traditional long-haul and short-haul truck drivers we think of lugging commercial goods from state to state. The rise of e-commerce has fueled big growth in shipments in the U.S., accounting for nearly half of UPS’s domestic packages. Since somebody has to deliver those packages — that is, until Amazon figures out how to get its drone delivery service off the ground — it makes sense that jobs in this field are growing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, demand for truck drivers wil nearly double over the next decade — from 1.44 million on the road in 2014 to 2.76 million in 2022.
Another caveat to consider: NPR’s analysis only looks at full-time workers in the U.S., which are defined as those working 35 hours or more per week. If you factor in part-time workers, schoolteachers actually become one of the most common jobs in many states, according to Katy Genadek, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Population Center. NPR also excluded the broad category of “salespersons not elsewhere classified” from the data, and it’s possible they weeded a lot of part-time workers as a result, including retail workers. Retail salespeople and cashiers were actually the two largest occupations in the U.S. in 2013, according to BLS.
But there is no denying there has been high demand for truckers, so much so that companies are having a hard time filling positions. Just a year ago, the American Trucking Association told Bloomberg there were 25,000 unfilled trucking jobs on the market.
Jerry Skipper, 49, has been a commercial truck driver in McDonough, Ga., for more than eight years. He found his way into the industry in 2007, shortly after the Ford Motor factory he worked at as an assemblyman announced it was closing. Jobs on the road, he found, were plentiful.
“There were truck driving jobs advertised in every community I looked into,” says Skipper, who hauls metals across Georgia and Alabama on a 48-foot flatbed truck.
Commercial truck drivers in the U.S. earn about $17.19 an hour on average, according to PayScale, with annual earnings in the $29,000-$63,000 range. But the hours can be challenging, despite the government’s move to reduce the cap on the maximum driving time in 2013 to prevent fatigue-related accidents. The new rules reduced the average workweek for drivers from a maximum of 82 hours to 70.
Skipper says his first job was with a company based in Birmingham, Ala., but he was hardly home for longer than 36 hours before having to go back out on the road, often sleeping in his truck overnight. He lasted a year before leaving for a job with another company with better hours. He works about 50 hours a week and he can be home every night. As far as job stability goes, he’s not worried.
“I’ve been in this for eight years and I have no commercial violations on my record,” he says. “I could pretty much work anywhere.”
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