In a month of employment growth for the economy as a whole that was considered disappointing, there were signs in the truck transportation numbers that could be viewed as positive.
And for yet another month, there was strong growth in the warehouse and courier sectors.
Total truck transportation jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis rose by 2,500 jobs, climbing to 1,502,900 jobs. Given the strength of the trucking market, the number of help wanted signs hanging in front of companies that need drivers and a run of wage increases and sign-ons, that might be considered modest.
On top of that, not seasonally adjusted jobs in the truck transportation sector declined 1,600 jobs, to 1,508,000 jobs.
But Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State who follows the report closely each month, was positive on what it said about the pace of hiring. Miller said the not seasonally adjusted model would have suggested a job decline in the seasonally adjusted model so the end numbers rising were a positive that suggested healthy hiring levels.
Miller also noted that there were increases in the job numbers for July and August. For example, the report for July — which is now final and not subject to further adjustments — came in at 1,494,400 jobs. That is up from 1,493,100 jobs reported a month ago. The August number in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report came in at 1,500,400 jobs. That’s up 1,900 jobs from what was reported last month. Given the adjusted gains in those two months, Miller said it makes the September number “look a bit better in comparison.”
The warehousing sector continues to add workers at a blistering pace. On a seasonally adjusted pace, warehousing and storage jobs rose to 1,480,700 jobs.
The final number for July came in at 1,448,000 jobs, so that sector has added 32,700 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis. In the last 12 months, it has added 106,500 jobs, a 7.7% increase in that period.
Couriers and messengers continued to surge as well. At 1,045,200 seasonally adjusted jobs, that figure is up 12,500 jobs from a month earlier. And on the same seasonally adjusted basis, jobs since September 2020 are up 64,300 jobs.
On the truck transportation jobs, Miller closely watches the month-lag data on individual categories. He has noted frequently that the rise in over-the-road jobs has not been moving at the same pace as the overall truck transportation figures.
But he was encouraged by the August numbers in that category. Employment that month rose by 2,600 jobs from July, marking three strong months of gains. He said the growth rate is similar to what was experienced in 2018, which also was a strong freight market. However, total employment in that sector remains below the figures of 2018 and 2019.
Meanwhile, LTL employment was up just 700 jobs for the month and is down 5,700 jobs from 2018, Miller said.
Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research at Convoy, said he believes the data is failing to capture a dynamic market for new independent owner-operators. “Any alternative data source you look at suggests that the most dynamic segments of trucking right now are owner-operators, who are always excluded from the BLS data, and at new but growing carriers,” he said in an email to FreighWaves.
He expressed similar views for the data on couriers, who are surging in the official data regardless. The percentage of courier drivers in the past decade had been about 4%, Terraza said, but that figure is closer to 20% now. “Those self-employed drivers aren’t in the BLS data,” he said.
In other notes from the data:
— Workers are putting in more hours. The average weekly hours in the truck transportation sector for production and nonsupervisory employees in August rose to 43.6 hours, up a full 30 minutes per week. Going back to 2011, that is easily the highest on record. That number did not crack 43 hours in the entire decade that began in 2011. It now has been above 43 hours for four out of the last five months.
— Even with all those extra hours, compensation fell slightly. The hourly wage for production and nonsupervisory employees in truck transportation declined 2 cents, to $25.60/hour.
— The cost of truck transportation continues to rise. The Producer Price Index was up to 165.6, up from 165.3. A year ago, it was 145.4. That is up 13.6%, far outstripping national inflation rates.
— After being relatively stable for a year, rail employment took a relatively significant decline on a seasonally adjusted basis. It fell to 141,700, a drop of 500 jobs. Declines of that magnitude were regularly being recorded as companies implemented precision railroading through 2019 and 2020. But the number of employees in the sector were holding between 142,000 and 143,000 for most of this year, with a one-month jump in June back above the 144,000 level. In August, jobs were 142,200; they were 142,400 jobs at the start of the year. But the September report showed rail employment at 141,700 jobs.