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Employment report: Strong but not record-breaking increase in trucking jobs

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

(Our initial News Alert can be found here). 

The employment report for the transportation and warehousing sector in general and the truck transportation subsector specifically showed an industry that is firing on all cylinders.

The number of jobs in the truck transportation sector climbed to 1,463,700 in October. That was up a hefty 9,600 jobs from September and a total of 14,200 jobs since August after slight revisions in the September and August numbers.

It also means that since the trough of April at the lowest point in the pandemic, the truck transportation sector as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has tacked on 33,700 jobs. 

It’s not record territory for two months’ worth of gains; the historic market of summer 2018 between July and September added almost 20,000 jobs. But it marks a continued recovery in the truck transportation sector and the larger transportation and warehousing sector of which truck transportation is a part.

In that larger transportation and warehousing group, total employment climbed to 5,407,400, up from 5,344,200 jobs in September. Since the April low, that figure is up almost 300,000 jobs. But even this sector can’t escape the damage from the pandemic; a year ago, there were 5,635,400 jobs in the group, showing a decline of 228,000 jobs in the last year.

Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research at Convoy, said in his monthly commentary about the jobs report that the 9,600 jobs added was slightly off the gains from August and was “still less than I would expect.”

“With demand as strong as it is (and prices as high as they are), I’d suspect the number to be higher,” Terrazas wrote. “Industry employment is still only 96% of what it was a year ago.” He did note that the figure does not include owner-operators.

The BLS reports seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted numbers. The figures in this article are seasonally adjusted, as that is what virtually all analysts look at.

But Terrazas also noted that the parcel industry added just 8,300 jobs, “below its pace over the past few months.” And he added that he is concerned that the season adjustment “might be introducing distortions here.”

Here are some other highlights from the jobs report:

— The rail industry has been relentlessly cutting jobs. But in September, it actually added jobs for the first time in months. The revised September figure showed a 200-job gain over August, up to 146,100 jobs. That did not last. In October, it was down 300 jobs to 145,800.

— The transportation and warehousing sector has an unemployment rate of 8.9%. It was 15.7% in July and was down 240 basis points just from September to October. Average hourly earnings in the field overall were flat, stuck at $25.50. But pay for production and nonsupervisory employees rose 19 cents per hour, to $22.94. Those workers also had a lot more hours, jumping to 39.3 from 38.4. (The numbers do not break out unemployment rates for the subsectors like trucking or rail.) The producer price index in transportation and warehousing dropped slightly, to 132.0. It was 133.5 as recently as June. 

— In the trucking subsector, average hourly earnings were $26.52, up from $26.46 from a month earlier. Surprisingly, given the increase in freight rates, earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees in that sector declined to $24.45 from $24.60 and hours worked dropped a large 1.5 hours, to 41 hours. 

— The number of parcel delivery personnel, described as couriers and messengers, did rise just 8,300 jobs, as Terrazas noted. But last-mile growth also saw warehousing and storage jobs jump 28,100 jobs. That is significantly more than the 13,800 job growth of the prior month. The warehousing and storage numbers have some odd quirks in them. For example, hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees were $17.79 for September. It was $19.44 in August. But it was $17.73 a month earlier, so it is a highly volatile number. Hours worked took a big jump in both areas, rising to 41.5 from 40.2 for all employees, and to 41.3 from 39.7 for the production and nonsupervisory employees. 

— Outside of the warehousing and storage subsector, the largest outright increase in the transportation and warehousing sector was in transit and ground passenger transportation. As municipal mass transit systems start to slowly come back, that area added 25,200 jobs to come in at 378,600 jobs. A year ago, it was 519,300 jobs.

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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.