Income Stuck Around $30,000? Truck Drivers Make $45K
Difficult work, but there are always many, many openings
Ever notice how the side of every semitrailer on the highway seems to have a sign that declares “We’re Hiring”?
There are 3.6 million truck drivers in the United States, according to the American Trucking Association. It’s a job with wincingly high turnover: The association’s company members suffer annual turnover behind the wheel of 92%.
That doesn’t mean nine out of 10 drivers quit the industry every year, but rather most quit their company — and then easily find a job with another. Some do leave for good. And all that churn spells opportunity for workers tired of lower wages, and often poor benefits, in food service, retail, warehousing and other fields.
Driving long haul, which pays quite a bit better than local trucking, isn’t for everyone. It’s lonely, tedious and hard on a driver’s health, being stuck in a seat for an 11-hour shift.
But the difference between $30,000 a year and $45,000, plus generally better benefits, can get a family off the paycheck-to-paycheck routine and afford a higher standard of living.
There are seldom educational requirements beyond the ability to obtain a Class A drivers license. Many companies, desperate for new drivers, provide training.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists median salary at $45,260. The highest-paid 10% of truck drivers earned more than $66,840. By federal regulation, drivers cannot work more than 11 hours straight, or exceed 60 hours in a week or 70 hours in eight days. After that comes a 34-hour “reset” break, mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Monitoring of hours behind the wheel is intense and violations can get a driver and company in trouble with regulators.
Taylor Barker, a 25-year veteran driver, owns his own truck and works as a contractor for a larger company. “I love being a trucker. There's nothing I'd rather do, but it's a tough job,” he says. Barker generally spends a month at a time on the road, before returning home for about 10 days. But drivers employed mightn’t have that kind of flexibility.
“It’s got its pros and cons. You’re away from your family,” he says. “I love interacting with customers that make the products. And I love the people at the truck stop, and trying food from different parts of the country. That's always a plus.”
Trucking companies employ legions of recruiters to steal drivers from each other, papering truck stop bulletin boards with hiring notices. Recruiters are looking for reliable types, with some relevant experience, if possible. According to Mobility Pathways, a job skills project, some 13% percent of former taxi drivers found new employment as truck drivers — and got a pay bump from about $26,000, the median salary as of 2019.
Barker, the 25-year veteran, worked as a fueler in the U.S. Army before getting into trucking. It helps to show that you’re trustworthy enough to be handed the keys to a $125,000 vehicle. Still more important is a clean drug and alcohol record: Since January 2020, trucking companies have been able to access drug test results for drivers nationwide, leading to thousands of truckers being disqualified for having failed a test.
As of this writing, TruckDriverJobsinAmerica.com listed 10,000 jobs for student drivers, where new truckers have the opportunity to train on the job — and may receive a sign-on bonus of $5,000 or more with the right company. There are many competing websites; Google “truck driver jobs” and job boards and company hiring pages will pop up.
Stevens Transport, which has more than 2,500 rigs, promises a first-year salary of up to $60,000, rising to $72,000 by the third year. The company will sponsor commercial drivers license training, with 240 hours of on-road paid training. Stevens says its benefits include health insurance. Drivers must be prepared to spend up to three weeks at a time away from home, and the company needs drivers in states including Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Georgia.
There is a long-term threat to the job category in the form of autonomous vehicles. A handful are already on the road and the technology is rapidly developing. But becoming a driver requires little upfront investment, unlike many jobs that require formal education or lengthy certified training. And moving from $30,000 to $45,000 or more, if trucking is for you, could be a big improvement in family finances.