US trucking jobs rebounded to all-time high in October

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Updates

US trucking employment rebounded in October to a new record high after an abrupt and steep drop in September as total transportation and warehousing employment increased from both the prior month and year over year. October’s trucking employment level of 1.614 million jobs surpassed the previous all-time peak set in August by about 2,000 jobs.

The stronger-than-expected increase in trucking jobs last month, including all workers but mostly truck drivers, points to continuing freight demand.

Trucking gained 19,800 real, unadjusted jobs in October, a 1.2 percent gain month to month, and recovering from a 17,800 job loss in September. Year over year, trucking employment was up by 67,700 jobs, a 4.4 percent increase, according to preliminary data released Friday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Seasonally adjusted data indicates the BLS only expected a 6,600-job gain last month.

The large drop in employment in September and October’s large gains were not typical. Usually, any loss or gain in employment in these months is much smaller, according to BLS data. Trucking employment typically rises in the fall, reaching an annual peak in November, before falling back in December.

Courier and messenger firms, which include local e-commerce delivery companies, added 21,000 real, unadjusted jobs in October after a 12,300-job gain in September. That raises the possibility that some of the employees lost by long-distance trucking in September may have taken more local or regional delivery jobs that get them home each night.

The leap in trucking employment pushed the preliminary JOC For-Hire Trucking Employment Index reading to 105.9 in October, up from 104.6 the previous month and just above the 105.8 reading for August. That is the highest reading ever for the index and shows current for-hire trucking employment — approximately 1,612,400 workers — is 5.9 percent higher than the fourth quarter of 2018.

The volatile employment swings may be a sign that more independent truck drivers are putting their business on hold and signing up with larger carriers, Jason Miller, associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University, told Friday. “The decline in September was almost entirely driven by the long-distance truckload sector,” which had 16,800 of the 17,800 lost jobs, he said.

“Barring measurement error, this makes me think that a lot of the payroll increase in October likely represents the further transition of capacity from self-employed to employed in that we have self-employed drivers giving up their operating authority and returning to carriers as employees,” Miller said. None of the other sectors of trucking covered by the BLS showed much change in September, he said.

October data for those sub-sectors of truck transportation will be available in December.

If Miller is correct, the last two months of employment data signal that truck capacity is shifting rather than shrinking, as falling spot rates and higher fuel, insurance, and equipment prices push independent truckers and small companies to exit the market and follow the freight now being moved by contract carriers. Many large trucking companies have added vehicles this year, especially to dedicated trucking divisions.

Total transportation and warehousing employment rose 1 percent in October from September and was up 4.6 percent year over year on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Warehousing and storage companies added 9,700 real, unadjusted jobs, far fewer than the almost 30,000 new hires expected. That led to a seasonally adjusted loss of 20,000 jobs, a figure that obscures the actual warehousing gain in October.

Source: JOC

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