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BLS data indicates truck transportation employment growth may be slowing

August job increase of 800 lowest in several months

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing a small gain of 800 truck transportation jobs in August, there are some signs that the hiring spree in trucking may be losing steam.

With one exception, every month since the first big pandemic-related drop in employment has seen the number of workers in the truck transportation sector increase, according to the monthly data of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That near-total streak remains intact following Friday’s release of employment data from August, which showed the truck transportation sector added 800 jobs, for a total of 1,595,500 jobs. 

There were a few other signs of a slowdown in the hiring spree. For example, the BLS figure for July was first reported at 1,595,000, but was revised downward by 300 jobs in the latest report. The June figure reported last month of 1,591,500 jobs was also revised downward by 800 jobs. 

But even with those revisions, the job growth in the truck transportation sector has been stunning this year. February was the one post-pandemic month since April 2020 that had a decline in jobs, dropping 2,700. But the other months have been a streak like the BLS has never recorded over the last 10 years, with gains, starting in January, of 6,800, 11,000, 14,900, 15,700, 6,100 and 4,000, before the 800 job-increase posted in August. (Those numbers omit the February decline.)

But the increase of 800 jobs was in the seasonally adjusted data, which is looked to by most economists as the more important figure. On a not seasonally adjusted basis, the job gains were larger, rising 4,700 jobs to 1,612,200 jobs.

Seasonally adjusted, jobs in the truck transportation sector are now up 71,000 in the past year and up 136,900 in the past two years.

Meanwhile, the warehousing and storage sector continues to see declines in employment. That category declined from June to July, after a significant downward revision in July data, and declined further in August.

The revised July figure put employment in the warehouse and storage sector at 1,789,100 jobs. The August figure was 1,782,900, for a drop of 6,200 jobs in just two months.

Among other highlights in this month’s report:

  • The not seasonally adjusted numbers on long-distance truckload carriers, which lag by a month, have been rising sharply. At 296,000 jobs in July, they are up almost 10,000 jobs since March. Given that increase, and the anecdotal evidence of independent owner-operators parking their trucks due to lower rates, the rise in that number could suggest some independent owner-operators are choosing to sign on as company drivers rather than be on their own. Independent owner-operators are not counted in the BLS data.
  • For the second consecutive month, the cost of truck transportation declined as measured by the Producer Price Index for the sector. The PPI data runs a month behind the jobs number, so the latest figures are for July. The July PPI was down 0.4% from June, and June in turn had been down 0.5% from May. But prior to that, the truck transportation PPI had been up almost every month since May 2020. The PPI that month was 140.6. It peaked at 203.9 in May 2022, for an increase of 45%. The latest index figure is just under 201.9.
  • The BLS does not provide an unemployment rate for specific sectors. But it does have an unemployment rate for transportation and warehousing as a whole. That number bounces around from month to month, far more than the overall national unemployment rate, which this month came in at 3.7%. In July, the rate in transportation and warehousing was 4.2%, up slightly from 4.1% the previous month. It was as low as 3.6% in April. Its peak following the start of the pandemic was 15.7% in May 2020. But as recently as a year ago, it was 6.4%.
  • Although the PPI for truck transportation has been down for two consecutive months, the overall rate of price increases for the transportation and warehousing sector as a whole has been on a steady rise. Between June and July, the rate was 0.4%. But that was the lowest sequential increase since a decline last September. And the increase of 0.4% was well below recent sequential increases, which have generally been above 1% and have at times topped 2%.
  • Hourly earnings of all employees in warehousing rose to $22.48 an hour in July from $22.15 in June. And in truck transportation, they climbed to $29.21 from $29.06. But nonsupervisory employees in truck transportation saw their hourly wages drop to $27.17 from $27.66. 
  • Rail jobs essentially flatlined at 145,000 to 147,000 jobs at the start of the pandemic, falling from just under 160,000 at the start of 2020, and they have been in that range for every month since June 2020 except for three instances. Nothing changed in August; rail jobs were 146,400.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.