The cost of a steak to put on the grill continues to escalate and some say it is largely due to a shortage of truck drivers in Illinois and the rest of the country.
The shortage began before the COVID-19 pandemic and is getting worse, according to the American Trucking Association which says there was a shortage of 61,000 drivers at the end of 2019.
The Illinois Trucking Association recently conducted a survey of companies around the state and 97% said they were short of truck drivers.
Matt Hart, executive director of the ITA, said the main problem appears to be enhanced unemployment benefits.
“In many cases, they were set up to where people could actually make more money by staying home than going to work, and we are seeing it in the trucking industry, the restaurant industry, the manufacturing industry, so that is the No. 1 issue that I hear when I talk to trucking companies across the state,” said Hart.
Twenty-five states have eliminated the extra federal benefits in an effort to drive more people back into the workforce. Gov. JB Pritzker has said Illinois will not be joining the movement.
Other contributing factors mentioned by industry officials include an aging workforce, retirements because of the pandemic, and a federally mandated drug and alcohol clearinghouse program.
Hart said the shortage is having an effect on not only the things that we are buying but the things we throw away. He notes Chicago’s garbage facilities are being overrun because there are not enough drivers to haul the trash out of the city. The availability of drivers getting fuel to gas stations has popped up as a problem in some areas as well. Recently, two Casey’s General Stores ran out of fuel in Decatur and Warrensburg.
The average pay for a truck driver is around $51,000, but some companies are offering more compensation in an effort to lure drivers.
According to the website Overdrive, this week, Averitt Express is raising salaries for all regional truckload dry van drivers without a hazmat endorsement to 52 cents a mile, with an estimated annual compensation of $62,400 per year. Additionally, all qualified regional truck drivers will receive a $5,000 sign-on bonus for a limited time.
Paper Transport is increasing driver pay in regional positions between 8% and 25% across its Midwestern operation area, which includes Illinois.
“The pay is very, very good,” Hart said. “I don’t know of a single trucking company that has not been increasing its pay just to try to keep up with the demand that is out there right now.”