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Monthly trucking employment report: Steady after lots of volatility

After several months of significant swings in truck transportation employment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported November jobs numbers that reflected moderate changes.

The seasonally adjusted truck transportation jobs total for last month was 1,581,300, an increase of 700 jobs. But it comes after a four-month stretch in which July jobs dropped 6,900; August jobs fell 30,700 (fueled by the closure of Yellow Corp.); September jobs climbed 14,000 positions as some of the Yellow loss reversed itself at other carriers; and October recorded a drop of 3,600 jobs. 

The 700-job increase reported Friday morning reflected a market of reasonable stability that was also evident in the data for not seasonally adjusted jobs. Labor economists generally look at seasonally adjusted numbers as more indicative of labor market strength or weakness but caution that not seasonally adjusted numbers should not be ignored. 

Those figures were even more stable than the seasonally adjusted numbers. Not seasonally adjusted jobs dropped 100 positions to 1,591,800 jobs. There were revisions to the October numbers but they were relatively minor as well. Along with September revisions, the report showed that on a not seasonally adjusted basis, November jobs stood at 2,100 jobs more than September. 

Mazen Danaf, an economist at Uber Freight (NYSE: UBER), said the numbers, though only a small change, “continued to defy expectations.”

“We usually expect trucking employment to fall in the last few months of the year, something that did not happen in 2023,” he said in an email to FreightWaves.

“Aside from Yellow’s bankruptcy, we haven’t seen any significant reduction in capacity,” Danaf added. “On the contrary, Yellow’s ex-drivers have likely flooded adjacent sectors such as truckload and specialized freight, keeping these markets saturated.”  

David Spencer ofArrive Logistics noted the small movement in the numbers and said in an email to FreightWaves that “there is reason to believe employment declines will be more gradual than previously anticipated.”

Spencer said he earlier had believed carriers that normally ramp up at this time of year in anticipation of a Christmas rush “may have taken a step back from the normal hiring ramp up and are comfortable handling the seasonal demand surges with the staff already in place.” He added that the stable numbers he sees in the data are a sign of “relative stability.”

The most notable numbers in the report continue to be in warehousing and storage as the great pandemic hiring binge of 2020 and 2021 reverses itself.

Warehouse jobs declined 8,100 jobs. That is less than in October, when, after revisions, the decline from September was 13,000 jobs. Warehouse and storage jobs have now fallen 16 of the past 17 months. In the one month they didn’t decline, they were flat.

Warehouse jobs peaked at 1,960,300 in June 2022. At 1,861,000 jobs in November, that is a decline of 99,000 jobs. However, in March 2020, right as the pandemic was hitting, warehouse jobs stood at 1,342,000. Even with the declines of the last 17 months, warehouse is a sector that has added huge levels of employment. 

In other data from the report:

  • Rail employment declined. And although the numbers were small, the industry has been under such pressure to replenish its ranks and build a bigger workforce that the move is significant. On a seasonally adjusted basis, jobs in rail slipped below the 150,000-job level after declining 300 jobs, but October was revised downward also. It puts rail jobs at 149,600, just 1,200 jobs above last November. 
  • Average weekly hours in truck transportation for production and nonsupervisory workers continued to bounce along in a range of 40.4 to 40.8, coming in at 40.6. It’s been in that range for four straight months and seven of the last nine. But what’s notable is how much lower that is from the high-water mark of 343.4 hours posted in August 2021.
  • The national unemployment rate came in at 3.7%. But for transportation and warehousing, it was 4.5%. That is down 300 basis points but is still way above the June mark of 3.3%.  

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