Truck transportation jobs in September suffered a decline that could be viewed as historic.
September jobs declined 11,400 jobs to a seasonally adjusted total of 1,580,800 jobs. That is only the third month since the pandemic began in which truck transportation jobs dropped.
Where the decline could be seen as historic comes from looking at data that the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides on its website going back to 2010. In most months, truck transportation jobs since then have increased. Since the start of 2010, there have been about 130 monthly reports. Before this month, only 28 had recorded declines.
And of those 28 months, the only month with a larger decline in truck transportation jobs was April 2020, when the pandemic was sending the economy crashing and the sector lost more than 78,000 jobs. The job loss in September was significantly bigger than the third-biggest decline, which was 7,000 jobs recorded in March 2020, when pandemic-related job losses were starting to be felt.
The largest job loss for any one month before September that was free of any pandemic-related impact was 6,600 jobs in August 2019. However, that decline came in a string of seven consecutive months of job declines that totaled 28,200 jobs, not ending until February 2020, just in time for the hits that employment took from the pandemic.
Even with the decline, the seasonally adjusted jobs total for truck transportation at 1,580,800 is still more than the total reported in April of 1,568,900 jobs, after hefty increases in May and June and a smaller increase in July.
The decline was even larger than at first glance compared to earlier data. July jobs data, which is now final, was revised down 2,300 jobs from what was reported last month. August jobs were revised downward to 3,300 jobs. The changes in July and August resulted in August being just the second month since the pandemic to record a decline in jobs from the prior month. Only in March of this year had a decline been recorded between the giant decline of April 2020 and the now two consecutive months of job losses in the truck transportation sector.
Not seasonally adjusted jobs also took a hit. Economists generally look only at seasonally adjusted jobs, but some caution that not seasonally adjusted jobs should not be ignored.
That category took an even bigger decline than in the seasonal loss, dropping 21,200 jobs.
Truck transportation jobs generally are seen as correlating with manufacturing activity. But the Federal Reserve’s manufacturing index has been trending slightly higher, rising between July and August, so the drop in truck transportation jobs can be seen as countercyclical.
Any correlation between truck transportation jobs and warehouse jobs was not visible in the data. Warehouse jobs rose 200 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. But on a not seasonally adjusted basis, they soared 11,500 jobs, to 1,760,700. There was a slight downward revision between July and August.
Among other highlights in the report:
- The slowdown that was evident in the number of jobs did not show up in average hourly pay in the truck transportation sector. That came in at $29.57 per hour, yet another new record. A year ago that figure was $27.64 per hour, and it was up 40 cents in August from July. The increase was more pronounced for production and nonsupervisory workers, with monthly average pay rising to $27.95 from $27.16 a month earlier. That too was a record.
- Signs of a slowdown were somewhat visible in the hours worked in the truck transportation sector. They held at 41.3 hours in August and are down from 41.5 hours in May. A year ago, they were at 42.4 hours.
- Costs are dropping. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for truck transportation was down sequentially for the third consecutive month. The 1.9% decline in August was the second biggest monthly drop in the last 10 years, exceeded only by the 2.2% fall in May 2020, at the start of the pandemic.
- Hourly earnings in the warehouse sector took a downward hit, dropping to $22.29 per hour from $22.51 per hour for all employees. Nonsupervisory and production employees in warehousing saw their pay in August drop to $21.32 from $21.47.
- The PPI for warehousing took a giant hit, dropping 6.3% in August from July. However, costs in that sector as reported by the BLS are always subject to big swings. In the prior three months, the PPI for warehouses was down 7.1%, up 4.1% and then up 5.3% before the latest decline.
- The BLS does not report an unemployment rate for individual subsectors, such as truck transportation and warehouses. But for the overall transportation and warehousing sector, which also includes such sectors as rail, the unemployment rate came down in September to 4.3% from 4.6%. It’s still higher than it was in June and July when it came in at 4.1% and 4.2%, respectively.
- Rail jobs were 146,800 jobs. Since the pandemic brought jobs in the rail sector down to 145,200 jobs in June 2020, the seasonally adjusted monthly job figures have almost always been between 145,000 and 147,000.