Truck transportation jobs in the U.S. rose by an amount in April that had not been seen in nine years.
After the March report showed a drop in jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis compared to February, the first decline since truck transportation employment began to climb out of the hole created in April 2020, there was some concern those figures might be an early harbinger of a weakening freight sector.
But in April, truck transportation jobs came roaring back. The sector added 13,000 jobs, rising to 1,564,100 jobs. It is the largest increase since a 15,800-job jump in April 2013.
After revisions, jobs between February and March still were down, a drop of 5,600 positions. The initial numbers released last month showed a decline of 4,900 jobs, so the decline between February and March was larger than originally reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (March numbers are subject to a revision next month, but February is “final.”)
Unlike some months when there is significant difference in the changes reflected between seasonally adjusted and not seasonally adjusted numbers, that was not the case this time. The 13,000-job gain in the seasonally adjusted data was exceeded by 14,100 jobs in the not seasonally adjusted figures, which, given how much they can diverge, is relatively in line.
Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State who follows the monthly report closely, said the strength in the numbers suggests that the “the sharp drop in dry van and refrigerated spot prices is not weighing on employment — yet.”
With the gain, the seasonally adjusted figure of 1,564,000 jobs is an all-time high. The not seasonally adjusted number is not the record yet — Miller said it is just below November 2021 and July 2019 — but that “given the current strength of industrial production and home building, I expect we will eclipse the July 2019 all-time not seasonally adjusted high this year.”
Miller also watches the specific data on subsectors in truck transportation, which lag by a month. In the key category of “general freight trucking, long-distance, truckload,” Miller said current employment levels near 530,000 workers are the highest levels ever. “This calls into severe question the argument that there is a shortage of individuals willing to work in the over-the-road dry van truckload sector,” he wrote in an email to FreightWaves.
The employment numbers do not include independent owner-operators.
Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research at Convoy, also suggested the employment numbers could mean that reports of a downturn are not showing up in the number of people working in the business.
“Even as the spot market softened sharply in March and April, the trucking industry clearly continued to add headcount aggressively,” Terrazas said in an email to FreightWaves. “There’s always a slow-twitch response from the moment executives decide to hit pause on growth to the moment when recruiting grinds to a halt, but today’s data suggests to me that much of the industry still views the spot market downshift as a temporary blip.”
Terrazas also said the April figures were “surprisingly strong,” which is the inverse of March, which he said were “surprisingly weak.”
“It will unavoidably fuel longstanding debates in the industry about shifting seasonal patterns,” he said.
Warehouse employment was up a sharp 16,800 jobs, rising to 1,785,800 jobs from 1,769,000 jobs. March figures were revised up 4,300 jobs. With those numbers, it puts the April employment levels in warehouses more than 171,000 jobs higher than a year ago.
But that is on a seasonally adjusted basis. On a not seasonally adjusted basis, warehouses showed a decline of 8,200 jobs. Miller said the seasonally adjusted figure “needs to be interpreted cautiously,” because the not seasonally adjusted number showed less of a decline than had been expected.
Other highlights in the report:
- Earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the truck transportation sector rose 49 cents per hour in March, the most recent figure available. A month earlier, it rose 48 cents. Combined, that 97 cents-per-hour increase is easily the largest two-month gain in the history of the series going back to 2012. At $27.18 an hour, it is up $2.74 an hour from last year. That could be a contributing factor to the whopping 6.7% gain in the producer price index for the truck transportation sector between February and March. That follows monthly increases of 1.4%, 1.4% and 1.1%, respectively. It is now up 24.7% from a year ago.
- Courier jobs rose sharply, to 1,113,100 jobs, up 14.900 jobs. But Miller cautioned that the same trend in warehouses — a lower job count in not seasonally adjusted figures and a subsequent increase in seasonally adjusted jobs — was present in couriers, making the numbers somewhat suspect.
- Rail jobs, at 45,600 jobs, marked the 24th consecutive month in which they have been between 143,000 and 148,300 jobs. But they haven’t been above 148,000 jobs since 2020, and were only below 144,000 jobs once. It’s a remarkably steady level of employment.