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Trucking slowdown? No sign of it in March employment figures

Truck transportation sector adds jobs again after drop in February and is now back to where it was in January

Truck transportation jobs rose in March, reversing a drop in February. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

After a decline in truck transportation jobs in February that seemed to signal the end of the long, almost unbroken post-pandemic climb in trucking employment, the jobs total in that sector reversed course in March and headed higher yet again.

Seasonally adjusted jobs in March, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday morning, rose to 1,612,000 jobs in March. That is up 5,700 jobs from the revised figure for February, which was 1,606,300 jobs. The initial figure for February was just under 1.6 million. January revisions sliced another 3,600 jobs from the already once-revised figure for that month.

The net effect of the February revisions and the March increase is that truck transportation jobs in March stood at 1.612 million and were 1.6114 million in January, meaning the industry’s employment is at an all-time high, but barely. Total employment in the truck transportation sector in March may have only been slightly higher than January but has managed to post that increase even in the midst of a truck market that is so weak that the FreightWaves Outbound Tender Volume Index, a measure of capacity, has flirted recently with all-time lows near 3%.

What the total means since the pandemic sliced 84,500 jobs in April 2020 is that there have been monthly decreases just four times since then, and total jobs are up 181,000 since that month almost three years ago.

The seasonally adjusted increase in truck transportation jobs came alongside an increase in the not seasonally adjusted numbers. They rose 3,600 jobs to 1,584,600 jobs. The initial February number also was revised upward 5,200 jobs from the initial February report. There also was an upward revision in January numbers. The end result of these changes in the not seasonally adjusted numbers is 4,000 jobs less than January. 

“It is possible that carriers who were expecting a reduction in volumes are actually seeing stable volumes, and may have prematurely cut staff earlier in the year,” David Spencer, the vice president for market intelligence at Arrive Logistics, said in an email to FreightWaves about the increase in employment. “Cass and ATA freight tonnage data supports a more stable demand environment thus far this year.”

The ability of truck transportation employment to hold up stands in sharp contrast to what is happening in warehousing. Seasonally adjusted employment in that sector dropped 11,800 jobs in March to 1,910,600 jobs. And unlike truck transportation, where total employment is higher than it was a year ago, seasonally adjusted jobs in the warehouse sector are less than they were in March 2022, when they were reported as 1,934,900 jobs, which is 24,300 jobs higher than March of this year.

On a not seasonally adjusted basis, March warehouse jobs were down 24,500 jobs from February.

Among other highlights in the report:

  • For the first time ever, hourly earnings for all employees in the truck transportation sector topped $30 per hour. Those figures are reported with a one-month lag and for February, they were $30.08 per hour, up from $29.76. Production and nonsupervisory employees saw their pay increase from January to February by 48 cents per hour to $28.91.
  • The number of jobs in the rail sector is not even 10% of that in truck transportation or warehouses, but it is closely watched because of industry commitments to increase the size of their workforces. The February seasonally adjusted number was revised up to 149,600 rail jobs from 148,900 jobs originally, but the March numbers moved down to 149,400 jobs. The revised February number was still the highest it has been for the rail sector since April 2020, and the March number is the second highest. 
  • The BLS publishes an unemployment rate for the entire transportation and warehousing sector but not for the individual components such as truck transportation. For March, it rose to 5%, up 300 basis points from February. It’s the first time at 5% or more in a year. It was as low as 3.7% in October. The decline in jobs in warehousing presumably was a key factor in that increase.

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  1. Steve

    Could fool me the freight is good our contract freight is way down and God forbid you go on the broker board to find something to get home if you can find something it doesn’t pay enough cover expenses

  2. K. Murray

    This article is misleading. What’s isn’t mentioned is why those jobs were added. More independent carriers and owner operators closed shop in February and March. As a result of these low rates the are being offered. With a large number of them re-applying with major carriers. That shouldn’t be considered any improvement within the sector.

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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.