Is Walmart really turning trucking into a six-figure-salary job?

A billboard displays the Walmart logo.
A billboard displays the Walmart logo.
Image: Reuters/Edgard Garrido
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Walmart captured headlines yesterday (April 7) when it said it would pay US truck drivers up to $110,000 in their first year on the job. It’s not alone. Trucking companies across the country have made similarly splashy announcements of record pay raises over the past year in an effort to lure drivers to their short-staffed fleets during the global supply chain crisis.

For decades, trucking companies have complained about a “driver shortage,” as low wages, long hours away from home, and poor conditions pushed workers out of the industry. So rising wages are a sign of a healthy labor market, where trucking companies have to improve conditions to attract workers to sign up for a hard job in high demand.

Walmart’s starting offer is roughly double what an American trucker can expect to earn; the average driver making $26.72 per hour and working 41.6 hours a week with no time off would earn about $57,800 a year, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Those who snag a job at the Walmart Private Fleet may make $100,000 in their first year.

While trucker pay is soaring now, wage growth could cool off as supply chains recover from the pandemic’s disruptions and trucking companies no longer need to compete as fiercely for workers. For the most part, trucking is still a long way off from becoming a six-figure job.

Trucking wages see their strongest growth on record

US trucking wages are seeing their fastest and most prolonged period of growth since at least 2012, the earliest year in the BLS database of trucker pay. Drivers made an average of $26.72 per hour in February, an 8.5% increase over the same month last year. February marked five straight years of year-over-year wage increases in the industry.

Trucking employment is also rising quickly to recover from widespread job losses at the start of the pandemic. The number of US drivers rose more than 4.5% year-over-year in February, the fastest growth in the BLS dataset.

Truckers’ wage growth may not last

Trucker pay is rising at a moment when big trucking companies are reporting booming revenues, drivers are in extremely high demand, and employment still hasn’t fully returned to pre-pandemic levels. As conditions return to normal, businesses will have fewer incentives to continue raising pay to attract and retain workers.

Meanwhile, the trucking industry successfully lobbied Congress last year to begin the process of lowering the minimum age to drive interstate trucking routes from 21 to 18. If an initial pilot program succeeds, Congress may open the door for teenage truckers to enter the industry, which drivers’ groups fear will increase accidents and depress wages.