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Add it up: Fewer truck transportation jobs in May than January

Truck transportation jobs rose slightly between April and May but recent downward revisions mean that the net number of jobs in that sector over the last four months has declined.


The figure released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 1,609,200 seasonally adjusted jobs in the truck transportation sector in May.





That is up 600 jobs from what is now reported for April. But the April report was revised downward almost 3,000 jobs from an original number of 1,612,500.


March was also revised downward to 1,607,600 jobs, from 1,609,500 jobs reported last month. The BLS posts an initial estimate for employment totals, and that number is subject to revision for the following two months. It then becomes final until the annual revision that comes with the report released in February.


Given the revisions for March and April, and the big drop in truck transportation employment reported in February, the end result is that the figure for January — which is final, barring any revisions next year — now stands at 1,611,400 jobs. The latest report for May is 2,200 jobs less than that.


For an industry that has gone through a collapse in spot rates of about 21% since the beginning of the year to a recent trough (before a small rebound, as evidenced in the SONAR NTI.USA spot rate data series), a loss of just 2,200 jobs might look like a best-case scenario.


The increase between the revised April number and the May figure was on the mind of David Spencer, vice president of market intelligence at Arrive Logistics.


“Job growth in the trucking sector is demonstrating its persistent resiliency with jobs continuing to increase month over month,” Spencer said in an email to FreightWaves. But looking at the longer trend of a decline since January, job growth is “continuing to defy expectations given the declining truckload rate environment. … The long-term trend points to more of a plateau for trucking employment.”


Matt Muenster, the chief economist at Breakthrough, looked at the larger picture of the transportation and warehousing segment, of which truck transportation is part. Total employment there was up 24,000, and he said in a statement to FreightWaves that there was a 90% confidence interval it would continue to be positive “through future adjustments.” That sector also includes public transit, which was up 11,800 jobs, and couriers, which rose 8,200 jobs.


Muenster said truck capacity is “holding up in the market,” slowing down the drop in employment that might come from the weak market.


“The combination of resilient jobs numbers and hours changes in line with other industries supports the capacity narrative, particularly when considering the improvement in the fluidity of freight transportation in much of the country,” he said in an email to FreightWaves.

  • Rail employment broke through the 150,000 job level for the first time since the pandemic began. After the pandemic-driven job cuts, which already were coming off a base of reduced employment in the field, employment had been stuck between about 145,000 and 147,000 jobs since 2020, even as the industry was criticized for eliminating what critics said was an excessive number of positions. But with April revisions and the latest May figure, rail transportation was put at 150,300 to 150,400 jobs over the last few months. In early 2015, employment was just under 210,000 jobs.

  • The not seasonally adjusted figure for truck transportation in May showed a far bigger increase than the seasonally adjusted number. Jobs in May under not seasonally adjusted data were 1,603,200 jobs, compared to a revised April figure of 1,590,100 jobs.

  • Warehouse jobs have now declined in nine of the past 11 months and were flat between September and October. They peaked at 1,960,300 jobs in June of last year and in May stood at 1,919,000 jobs, a decline of 1,900 jobs from a month earlier.

  • While the BLS does not break out unemployment rates for the various subsectors, the rate for the overall transportation and warehousing sector referred to by Muenster was 3.6%. It is down sharply from the 5% rate in March and the 4.7% rate just a month earlier. Its peak after the start of the pandemic was 15.7% in July 2020. There were two separate months in 2019 when the rate in the sector was sub-3%.

  • The delayed data on general freight trucking, long-distance and less-than-truckload trucking is showing payrolls down 13,700 through April compared to the June 2022 peak.

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