• ITVI.USA
    16,240.330
    -110.510
    -0.7%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.762
    0.031
    1.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.780
    0.120
    0.6%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,233.310
    -109.890
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.520
    0.380
    12.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.960
    -0.660
    -18.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.610
    0.250
    18.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.340
    -0.130
    -3.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.100
    -0.250
    -10.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.860
    -0.220
    -5.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    -2.000
    -1.6%
  • ITVI.USA
    16,240.330
    -110.510
    -0.7%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.762
    0.031
    1.1%
  • OTRI.USA
    21.780
    0.120
    0.6%
  • OTVI.USA
    16,233.310
    -109.890
    -0.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    3.520
    0.380
    12.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    2.960
    -0.660
    -18.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.610
    0.250
    18.4%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.340
    -0.130
    -3.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.100
    -0.250
    -10.6%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    3.860
    -0.220
    -5.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    126.000
    -2.000
    -1.6%
BusinessDriver issuesNewsTop StoriesTrucking

Behind employment numbers: OTR lags general freight; truck transportation cost growth slows

Total jobs in trucking still behind where they were 2 years ago, and a lot of the growth is going shorter distances

Looking at what economists like to call the “headline numbers,” it seems to suggest that efforts to hire more over-the-road drivers in the trucking sector is yielding results. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday morning, seasonally adjusted jobs in truck transportation climbed 3,400 jobs in July from June, rising to 1,491,800 jobs. But the June figure was revised upward by almost 2,000 jobs, so that the seasonally adjusted figure is now sitting at 5,300 jobs more than the original June figure reported a month ago. 

Following a revision to the earlier figures for May, it shows the July jobs at 9,800 more than the number of truck transportation jobs two months earlier. 

Economists generally look to seasonally adjusted data as being more indicative of trends, as it seeks to smooth out short-term anomalies in numbers reported. 

But — and when it comes to parsing employment data there generally is a “but” — the growth can be seen as slow through some other measurements. As Aaron Terrazas, Convoy’s director of economic research, noted in an email to FreightWaves, employment numbers in the BLS’ truck transportation sector have not regained their pre-pandemic levels. From the all-time high of 1,532,600 jobs recorded in June 2019, the total jobs in the truck transportation sector is down 30,400. 

Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University, analyzed not only the total employment numbers but the category breakdown. (The category data for truckload employment, LTL, local freight, etc. lags the total jobs data by a month.) And what Miller sees is a number that is being driven higher by big gains in local trucking, with jobs behind the wheel of a big over-the-road rig lagging behind.

As he noted in an email to FreightWaves, the general freight-local category published by the BLS has risen sharply. In BLS data provided by Miller, it shows that the general freight-local category climbed to 281,300 jobs in June, up from 262,400 a year earlier. (All figures cited by Miller for specific sectors are seasonally adjusted.)

But the truckload numbers show a rise during that period just to 502,200 from 498,900. The recent peak was 526,700 jobs in August 2019, and as Miller notes, the industry is well below that figure now. 

“The headline figure hides an incredible degree of reallocation of employees across subsectors,” Miller said. “That headline figure isn’t that useful to understand where capacity is at due to the reshuffling of drivers.” 

The comparison to a few years ago is not as stark for LTL drivers, but the trend there is the same. LTL driver jobs came in at 257,600 in June, up from 254,400 jobs in May. But the recent peak is 268,200 jobs in September 2018.

The enormous growth in the general freight-local overall but particularly in recent months is so large that it suggests a revision may be in the offing, Miller said. But even if there is a revision, it shows that “carriers in this sector are having little issue hiring workers,” he said. It also may reflect a growth in drayage drivers, which would end up in this category, Miller added.  

Other key takeaways from this month’s report:

  • The rate of increase in the cost of truck transportation slowed between May and June. After a whopping 3.9% increase in the Producer Price Index for truck transportation between April and May, it slowed to 0.5% between May and June. That is less than the February to March growth rate of 1.6% and the March to April increase of 0.6%. 
  • There were other notable trends in the data that suggest a slowdown from the recent frenzy. The average weekly hours worked had been rising steadily for the prior three months before June, which served as producing more capacity in the market. But after rising from 41.2 hours in February to 43.1 hours in May — the high level recorded in the BLS’ data going back to 2011 — that preliminary number slipped back to 42.8 in June. The slowdown in the growth rate of the truck transportation PPI was also seen in a relatively small jump in compensation, despite the numerous reports of pay increases. For production and nonsupervisory employees, the hourly wage rose just 9 cents, to $25.27/hour from $25.18 in May. However, that is the third consecutive month that the number reported by BLS is a record.
  • Other data showed strong hiring trends in the logistics field. Seasonally adjusted warehousing and storage workers were up more than 10,000 jobs, to 1,441,800 jobs, with a slightly smaller gain posted for not seasonally adjusted positions in that field. Courier jobs climbed to 1,006,400 on a seasonal basis, up 8,100 jobs from a month earlier. 
  • The rate of growth in warehousing and storage cost was restrained and actually declined. The PPI for the sector dropped to 112.6 from 112.9, marking only the second month in the last 12 where the index declined. Wages were also down between May and June, though the hours worked rose. Warehousing and storage hourly pay for all employees rose 2 cents, to $22.47, still below the all-time high of $22.89 set in April. For production and nonsupervisory employees, the wage increase was up to $19.56 from $19.45. Hours worked rose to 41.1 for all employees from 40.6, and up to 40.7 from 40.4 for production and nonsupervisory employees.
  • Data from the railroads suggested again that the bloodletting of employees that has gone on for the last few years that resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs has probably reached a stable level. Rail jobs were down to 143,600 in July, down from 144,400 in June. But the number for seasonally adjusted and not-seasonally adjusted jobs has been fluctuating on either side of 144,000 jobs for the last year. 
  • The not-seasonally adjusted job totals for July in the truck transportation sector were up a more impressive 9,700 jobs, rising to 1,512,800 jobs, for a difference of 21,000 jobs between the not-seasonally adjusted figure and the seasonally adjusted number. The not-seasonally adjusted total compared to a revised May figure is now a strong 33,600 jobs more than two months ago.

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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.

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