Truck driving has been an industry with ever-growing demand in the U.S. The work is tough, with long hours on the road and little in the way of company, but for those who can handle it, the job can prove a financial lifeline.
Average Truck Driver Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2018 report, truck drivers average $43,680 a year, with the top 10% making over $65,260 and the bottom 10% making less than $28,160. On account of an aging workforce, low-retention rates among new hires, and an inability to outsource the job overseas, the demand for new hires in the trucking industry
has steadily increased over the last few years, and salaries along with it.
This development comes quite recently, though, and follows a decades-long plummet in truck-driving wages. According to Business Insider, the median wage for truck drivers in 1977 hovered around $96,552 in today's dollars. Place that next to the current average of $43,680, and you'll see there's been a 45% decline in wages.
This can largely be attributed to the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. Passed to revitalize the sluggish late-1970s economy, this bill deregulated the trucking industry, bolstering the ease with which new truckers and trucking companies enter the market and lowering the requirements for wage transparency (formerly, federal regulations required all SEC-regulated companies publicly submit their rates with the SEC.)
Consumers enjoyed a huge win with this one. Substantial drops in the price of bulk goods followed with this flood of new and unregulated labor drops that paved the way for warehouse stores like Costco COST and cracked open the door for e-commerce to one day emerge. Truckers, on the other hand, were not so lucky. The flood of new labor was a flood of competition, forcing wages down to the level we see today. Not only that, but the status of the position took a hit too. What the public once viewed as a respectable, blue-collar job became the refuse of those whose desperation or quirks drew them to such difficult and relatively-unrewarding labor.
The labor shortage underway may lead to changes in that perception, but as of now, both the wages and image surrounding the foot soldiers of the trucking industry have a long way to go.
Which Regions Pay Most to Truck Drivers?
Truck drivers may go all over the map, but their home base can make a huge difference in their lives. According to the
, the wage disparity between the lowest- and highest-paying state for drivers in the U.S. comes out to $18,110 - over a third of the industry's average salary.
The West seems to offer the best wages for truck drivers, with averages of $48,662 in the north and $47,351 in the south. Far-flung regions like Alaska and Hawaii give these averages a bit of a boost, but by and large, wages in these states consistently rest above the median in the U.S. The Southeast and South Central regions, meanwhile, have some of the worst wages for truck drivers, with averages hovering around $41,919 and $42,118 respectively.
South Central -
Southeast - $43,339
East Central - $45,854
North Central - $45,994
Northeast - $45,579
Southwest - $47,351
Northwest - $48,662
For a closer look, here are the highest- and lowest-paying states for truck drivers.
Top 5 Highest-Paying States for Truck Drivers
New York - $50,460
Nevada - $50,920
North Dakota - $52,080
District of Columbia - $52,760
Alaska - $57,630
The 5 Lowest-Paying States for Truck Drivers
Mississippi - $41,900
South Dakota - $41,590
Alabama - $40,580
Maine - $40,040
West Virginia - $39,520
Factors That Impact Your Truck-Driving Income
Several other causes of variation among driver wages exist beyond location. Here are a few to consider.
Dozens of separate companies employ truck drivers, and the difference in rates between them can be surprisingly large, according to figures from TruckDriversSalary.com. Food distributor Sysco SYY pays its drivers the most at $87,204. Behind that Walmart WMT, while not technically a trucking company, does own its fleet and pays it the second-highest rates in the U.S. at $86,000. Generally, companies large enough to employ a personal fleet will pay higher than your typical dedicated trucking company. Companies you'll want to avoid are CR England, Star Transportation, and Gardner Trucking, which pays the lowest average wages out there at $31,200.
Due to the tough nature of the work, truck driving has a high turnover rate. Prove you're committed by sticking around for a few years and you can typically expect to see higher wages for your effort.
Pay Per Hour or Pay Per Mile
Different companies offer different pay structures, but the two most common are pay per hour or pay per mile. Pros and cons exist for both, though it should be said that pay per hour should provide the most financial security for the driver. Having an exact schedule and idea on how much they'll make for it can offer some valuable peace of mind in an already precarious job.
Regardless of pay structure, the distance of the job will seriously factor into how much you'll earn by the end of it.
Type of Job
Specific aspects of a job like transporting hazardous materials or oversized loads and traveling isolated routes can affect how much you'll be paid for it. Generally, this means the more risk that comes with the job, the more you'll get paid for it. Keep in mind, some of these jobs won't open up until you've had a few years experience in the industry, and for good reason. Taking on more risk in a job also can mean taking on risks to your safety.
Which Trucker Jobs Pay Best?
Again, the pay can all vary depending on the company, location, experience, and mileage, among other factors, but as a general rule, these jobs will land truckers the most cash:
As said before, companies large enough to afford private fleets typically pay higher than the average trucking company. Walmart is the prime example of this with a median income of $86,000. PepsiCo PEP hires the largest private fleet, though, at 52,700 vehicles, with drivers paid an average of $50,144, according to Indeed.com.
As usual, workers can find better pay through union labor. Because unions set the rate of pay, they'll typically go a little higher than the average job. Raises tied to the cost of living will typically be factored into salary packages, which can seriously help in an industry notorious for not keeping up with inflation.
Team driving entices many truck drivers for the simple reason that both members are paid for all the miles they spend on the road. That means you can switch off with your partner to sleep while still on the road and get paid for it.
Stress and burnout come with these long hours on the road, though, and having a partner you get along with is essential if you want to keep the workup. It can be a great chance to boost your salary, but keep in mind the risks that come with it.
Bonuses and Benefits
Provided you keep your license up to date and don't get into any accidents on the road, trucking offers a pretty secure employment opportunity. The current labor gap means that companies won't be looking to downsize on their drivers any time soon.
Legitimate worries do surround the prospect of self-driving trucks, which, some analysts claim, could be a reality within a decade. However, most of the companies testing the possibility of a self-driving truck also claim they fully intend to keep drivers stationed in each of the trucks at all times to ensure nothing goes wrong. Considering the newness of the technology and all the possibilities for it to go wrong, this claim seems highly-plausible, at the very least for its early stages.
Another benefit of tracking is that it requires very few qualifications. No post-secondary education is required to operate the vehicles, just a license, and training. The amount of time training takes can vary. Usually, it won't take more than seven weeks. Check your state's policies as some have more rigorous standards than others.
Seeing the Country
You literally can't stay stuck in the same place if you're a truck driver. Part of this job's appeal comes from the fact that you're always out on the open road. Now, that doesn't mean you'll get to go everywhere. Different companies cover different areas. Regardless, you'll be able to drive and see the American landscape in closer detail than any other job would.
No Commuting Costs
Your company covers all gas costs so worries about subway fare or prices at the pump can be left at the door. It may seem like a small and somewhat obvious perk, but if you stick with the job long enough, the money saved certainly adds up.
Once you hit the road, provided you stick to your route and stay on time, everything else is up to you. Play your music, podcasts, audiobooks; look out on the countryside in silence; make calls to your friends; whatever you want, it's your call. Of course, the flip side to no oversight is also no company (unless your working as a team), so it may not be a benefit to all. But for those who prefer feeling like their boss, few better jobs fit the bill.