I’m working on a theory about why there’s a major shortage of truck drivers across Canada.
I think it’s not just the pay (although that’s pretty bad, and hasn’t kept up with inflation) or the long hours (also bad and not generally fun).
I think it’s because of changes to everything from gender roles to the economic structure of families.
Long haul truck drivers get paid, on average, just under $50,000 a year in Canada.
For that, they get the privilege of being away from their families for days, maybe weeks at a time, and drinking a lot of bad coffee, and sleeping in a truck cab.
Back in the 1970s, when truck drivers for some reason were briefly cultural icons, the pay was better, but the other stuff was mostly the same.
So why was it easier to hire truckers back then?
Well, most truck drivers are still men, and we’ve changed the role of fathers, for one thing.
Decades ago, the primary job of the father was to provide for his family. Mom looked after the kids, dad brought home the money.
But now, we expect a lot more of fathers. They’re supposed to be involved in their kids’ lives. They want to be involved!
So a job that takes you away from home for days at a time is a lot less appealing.
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And then there’s the economy of families.
Back in the 1970s, women’s participation in the workforce was rising fast. It started the decade in Canada at around 40 per cent, and by the 1980s it was up to 50 per cent. By the 2010s, it had leveled off at above 80 per cent, not that far off from the approximately 91 to 93 per cent of men who were working.
So when it comes to all those children’s activities, responsibility has to be split more evenly between the parents. Which just adds to the desire of dads to be home. They need to help out!
Want to throw in another wrinkle?
If you’re a truck driver in your 50s, your parents are likely in their 80s. They’re probably still living independently, but they might need help cleaning out gutters, or doing some yard work now and again. Maybe they need a ride to the doctor sometimes.
When we talk about the economic incentives for certain jobs, we usually talk about money. Yes, if pay went up, there would be more truck drivers. A few more.
But we can’t ignore the fact that society has changed. Mostly these changes are for the better! It’s great that dads are more involved with their kids, and that more women can work, and that our seniors are living longer, more independent lives. But it’s changed the landscape in which work happens.
Economists talk about the need for more truckers (or pilots, or rail workers, or pick any tough job that takes you away from your home) as if that happened in a vacuum.
It doesn’t. Everything is different now. We can’t fill the tough jobs of the world without understanding what’s changed.
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