“I’ve been a truck driver for 9 years off and on, presently driving for XXXXX, all 48. I am more in tune with homelessness as I am still homeless myself. Except for my truck, I have nowhere else to stay.”
The above comment is one of many from an unknown number of professional truck drivers running across America. As many struggle with the current state of the economy, one facet that rarely receives mention is the fact that an unknown number of truckers would find themselves homeless if it were not for their truck. Never has there been a study done on the reality of homelessness for our nation’s truckers. Although one could argue that we are all just one pay check away from being homeless, how can this be a problem for those who work in the largest private sector industry in North America?
During the California port clean air regulations, hundreds of port truck drivers fought for their livelihood stating that the new regulations would simply be unaffordable. Hundreds more expressed the reality that without their trucks, they would be homeless. I recently received this email from a veteran truck driver who lost his job after being hit from behind by a 4-wheeler:
“I would like to know what is going on in this industry? I have been driving for over 20 years and two months ago I was struck from behind by an idiot 4-wheeler. I was legally stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the green light and next thing I know, this car hits me. Three days later I was let go from my company due to a “preventable accident” which they eagerly placed on my DAC, and I have not been able to find work since. I lived in my truck and I have no home, no car, no savings. I always ran the loads and never complained. I was a hard runner and would do whatever I was told. At 47 I now find myself staying with some friends, basically homeless.”
How many professional truck drivers would be homeless if they were to lose their jobs tomorrow?
The major cause of homelessness in America is poverty. The exact number of the homeless is difficult to say, due to the fact that so many wander the streets and easily slip into the nook and crannies across the country. Statistics place the homeless in America at 2.5 million on any given day. Single men make up the most majority at 60% and families with young children comes in at 40%. Currently, 1.3 million children are homeless in the most powerful country on Earth. Women are becoming a growing trend in homelessness, with estimates reaching almost two-thirds.
The state of the economy has much to do with those who find themselves on the streets, but why would a professional truck driver, employed by what is touted as a high paying career, have to rely on their truck for a home? A new driver recently called me and we spoke for about one hour. He was thrilled about finally being hired by a trucking company after waiting six months after CDL training graduation. The company, he told me, guaranteed him at least $25,000 per year. Granted, 25K is better than zero, but is $25,000 per year a viable income for a life on the road?
The average long haul truck driver earns around $32,000 per year, during good times and of course, you will hear from those drivers remarking on their $200,000 plus income, but this is few and far between with many variables involved. It is also, not reality for most of the 1.3 million long haul truckers. After expenses, many owner operators will earn the average of a company driver.
In 1996, my last year as an owner operator with Allied Van Lines, I grossed $160,000. My expenses ran about 50%, so I was able to net approximately $80,000. This was done by staying out 3-4 months at a time, with only two days off at home at each turn. Times have changed since 1996, and there is a big difference between hauling household goods and general freight. The majority of freight drivers earn nowhere near this high of an income and although there are a few that do, nobody can claim that this is standard for the industry.
For the hardworking truck driver that keeps America moving, none should ever find themselves in a position of facing homelessness. As new regulations force trucking companies to shape up or ship out, veteran drivers are experiencing punishment from the very companies that have allowed them to operate in questionable practices in the first place. Where trucking companies allowed drivers to break regulations and turn the other way, the CSA has changed that.
The industry is on its kick again about a truck driver shortage. There never has been, nor is there a truck driver shortage . . . there has been and still is a truck driver wage shortage. A Florida based trucking company begins recent CDL graduates at .13 cents per mile. A two year, safe driver is currently earning .27 cents per mile; the same companies that tell me that they are paying drivers as much as they can afford to pay, yet their net earnings for 2009 were $210,000,000.
Having owned several businesses, I am all for profit. That is the only reason a business is in business, but I can not see the younger generation coming up the ranks in search of a truck driving career, unless these problems are dealt with. What 20-something year old would want to live in a truck for $32,000 per year, along with the hardships that come with the trucking life? The newer generation wants a college degree with a 9-5 job and the ability to play on the weekends.
The industry is hanging on due to the true-blooded, veteran driver and the industry is doing its best to weed these out of the system. If professional truck drivers look to life on the road, spending months at a time away from home and family, living the life that very few can endure . . . homelessness should never be a worry. Sadly and inexcusable, for many . . . it is a reality.
© 2010, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.