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Truck transportation job growth slows in July

Monthly report from Bureau of Labor Statistics also has stunning downward revision for warehouse sector

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

There is no pause in hiring in the truck transportation sector, which added jobs in July for the 26th time in the past 27 months.

Total seasonally adjusted employment for the sector rose by 3,500 jobs in July, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in the sector now stand at 1,595,000. 

The number of jobs in the sector long ago passed the pre-pandemic peak of 1,540,200, recorded in June 2019. The last full-month peak right before the pandemic was 1,515,400 jobs in February 2020, followed by consecutive declines of 7,000 jobs in March and then 78,800 in the brutal April 2020 report. 

July’s gain of 3,500 jobs was relatively modest. Except for the drop of 2,700 jobs in March, which is the only decline in the 27 post-pandemic months, job gains this year prior to July ranged from 6,800 in January to 15,700 in May. 

Gains also were recorded for the not seasonally adjusted data, which showed a sharp increase of 8,600 jobs, to 1,606,900. While economists generally look at seasonally adjusted figures, many caution that not seasonally adjusted figures are important as well.

It appears that lower freight rates are starting to show up in the data. The producer price index for the truck transportation sector, which lags by a month, declined 0.2% in June. That is a month-to-month figure; it is not annualized. And it comes after the truck transportation PPI posted sequential gains of 4%, 1.2% and 1.7% the prior three months.

One of the more notable changes in the report came in the warehousing and storage numbers, both on a seasonally and not seasonally adjusted basis. 

Total jobs on a seasonal basis declined slightly by 1,600 in July, to 1,794,900 jobs. 

But that drop only looks small because the June figure was revised downward significantly. The June data released in early July showed warehouse and storage jobs at 1,821,600 jobs. The revised figure for June is now 26,700 jobs fewer than what was first reported. May also was revised downward, from 1,804,100 jobs to 1,787,700 jobs. 

On a not seasonally adjusted basis, warehouse jobs were originally reported as 1,777,000 jobs for June. But with the latest revision, they’re now at 1,759,500 jobs, a drop of 17,500. And the July number on a not seasonally adjusted basis was down a further 10,700 jobs.   

The revised figure is particularly stunning in light of the fact that since the April 2020 wipeout of 74,600 jobs in the sector, warehouse jobs have gone up by fewer than 10,000 just six times: three increases of less than that figure, and three declines. But two of the increases of fewer than 10,000 jobs came in May and June, and one of the declines was just posted for July, even after a huge revision for June, signaling a possible end to the torrid hiring of the past two years. That hiring binge featured monthly increases as high as 82,000 jobs. 

Another notable area is in the lagging data on specific types of trucking jobs. The category for long-distance truckload on a not seasonally adjusted basis rose by 16,800 jobs in May and an additional 4,300 jobs in June. That shift may be suggesting some independent owner-operators, staring at higher fuel costs, have decided to take their talents to a larger carrier, drive as an employee and see those fuel costs become somebody else’s problem.   

Less-than-truckload jobs also rose by 4,800, another sign of a shift to more drivers being employees rather than remaining independent owner-operators.

Among other highlights in the report:

— Jobs in the rail industry might be the most stable area of the economy. After the industry got done shedding thousands of jobs between 2015 and early 2020, jobs continue to stay within the range of 145,000 to 147,000. For the past three months, the sequential numbers are 146,500, 146,600 and 146,600. In July 2020, it was 146,100.

— Courier jobs were steady at at 1,110,100. But June went through a downward revision, not on the scale of warehouse jobs but still significant: 1,111,600 jobs revised, after an initial report of 1,115,100. 

— Although truck transportation jobs grew, wages did not, at least not in June, the latest month for which data is available. After peaking in May for all positions at an average hourly wage of $29.22, that sank to $29.05 in June. And while the growth recently has been impacting nonsupervisory and production workers the most, they were not spared this time. Average wages there declined to $27.85 an hour from $28.16 a month earlier. And everybody is working longer, too. Average weekly hours worked rose to 41.5 for the entire industry, up from 41.1 a month earlier and 40.7 as recently as March. Nonsupervisory and production employees dropped slightly to 42.1, but that is up from 41.2 as recently as March.

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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.