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Trucking jobs climb to ‘an incredibly strong number’ in May

May figures show more than 10,000 trucking positions added in 3 of the last 4 months

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Trucking executives may complain loudly about how hard it is to hire staff members, but it’s getting done.

The employment report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that for the third time in the last four months, the truck transportation category in May added a double-digit number of seasonally adjusted jobs. 

For May, the number of jobs added was 13,300, bringing the total up to 1,581,300 jobs. That continues the run of record-high levels of employment in the truck transportation sector.

Except for a dip of 2,700 jobs reported for March, total employment in truck transportation has risen every month since the almost 80,000-job plunge in April 2020, the first month of the pandemic. This year, besides the March dip, the increases were 11,000 in February, 14,000 in April and the latest increase of 13,300 jobs.

With revisions in the March figures, which are now final, truck transportation jobs the last two months are now up 27,300 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. Since December, that total is 42,400 jobs. 

In the history of the BLS series going back to 2012, there have only been three months prior to this year with job gains of more than 10,000, and one of them was May 2020, coming off the colossal crash of one month earlier. There now have been three this year alone.

The not seasonally adjusted figure for truck transportation also showed big gains. It came in at 1,572,000 jobs, up more than 22,000 from the revised April figure of 1,549,500 jobs. On a not seasonally adjusted basis, truck transportation jobs are up 37,400 jobs. 

Independent owner-operators might be ‘transitioning back to employees,’ says logistics expert

Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University, described the not seasonally adjusted figure as “an incredibly strong number.” He noted that the not seasonally adjusted figure for April was revised upward by 2,100. 

But he had a cautionary note as well, in an email to FreightWaves. “Part of me wonders if some of this could be due to self-employed independent owner-operators transitioning back to employees, but it is still a bit too early to tell,” Miller said.

The subsector data that comes out on a one-month lag was highlighted by Miller in his email. It notes that general freight, long-distance truckload was up 3.7% in the last year through April, and the LTL sector was up 4.1%. By contrast, the specialized long-distance sector was up 8.5%. 

“This is consistent with the sharp increase in durable goods manufacturing that the Federal Reserve Board has noted,” Miller said.  

The warehousing sector also continues to add jobs at a breakneck pace. Employment in that sector is now over 1.8 million, with the total coming in at 1,801,400 jobs. That is up 17,700 jobs in a month, 34,800 jobs in two months and more than 176,000 jobs in a year.
But that is on a seasonal basis. On a not seasonally adjusted basis, employment was flat. “This suggests we aren’t seeing an aggressive move to curtail capacity in this space following Amazon’s announcement that it is leasing some of its fulfillment center space,” Miller said.

The warehousing sector also continues to add jobs at a breakneck pace. Employment in that sector is now over 1.8 million, with the total coming in at 1,801,400 jobs. That is up 17,700 jobs in a month, 34,800 jobs in two months and more than 176,000 jobs in a year. 

Some other key figures from the report:

  • The Producer Price Index for the truck transportation sector is soaring. It was up 4.5% between March and April — the data on that lags the employment figures by a month — and it was up 4.3% a month earlier. The PPI for the warehouse sector was up 5.5% but was flat a month earlier and declined a month before that.
  • The usually uneventful figures for rail actually rose 500 jobs, to 146,400 jobs in May on a seasonally adjusted basis. That’s the highest since last July, when they were at 147,300 jobs. (In May 2018, rail jobs totaled 181,700.) 
  • Average hourly earnings in the truck transportation sector for production and nonsupervisory employees in April was up 10 cents per hour, to $27.27. But the number of hours worked rose 30 minutes, to 41.7 hours. That number had been trending down from a recent high of 43.4 hours in August 2021. 

More articles by John Kingston

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.