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Truck transportation jobs trend higher while warehouses shed workers
Trucking employment up 3 of last 4 months but warehousing continues long losing streak
Truck transportation jobs posted a modest gain in December.

Truck transportation jobs continued a slow recovery from the depths of the freight recession and the job losses created when Yellow Corp. went out of business in 2023.

The December figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday showed that seasonally adjusted truck transportation jobs rose 3,300 last month, rising to 1,586,300 jobs. That increase also was fueled by upward adjustments in the earlier-reported figures for November and October. As a result, the December figure was 5,700 jobs more than the “final” figure for October of 1,580,600 jobs. 

That October number is considered final because after its initial reporting in November, it is subject to revisions the next two months. It then holds that number until the February report, when the BLS releases revised figures for the entire prior year following adjustments to its statistical model. The BLS said earlier its model for 2023 was likely overstating the number of truck transportation jobs last year.  

The revision for 2022 went in the opposite direction, revising jobs upward after concluding it had underestimated jobs during that year. 

The increase in seasonally adjusted jobs came on the back of a decrease in not seasonally adjusted jobs. That figure dropped to 1,588,400 jobs from 1,592,900 jobs. While economists generally look to seasonally adjusted data, many of them caution that not seasonally adjusted data should not be ignored in observing larger trends. While the seasonally adjusted number has risen from October, not seasonally adjusted jobs are down 3,500 since October.

David Spencer, the vice president of market intelligence at Arrive Logistics, noted the difference between the seasonal and not seasonal numbers by saying that the divergence “indicates that jobs were down, but less than what is typical in December.”

“The data continues to support the trend we have seen in other trucking indicators, that despite a greatly reduced rate environment, capacity and overall employment is reducing at a slower pace than in prior market cycles,” Spencer said in an email to FreightWaves. “Whether the Q4 numbers indicate this trend or simply optimism from carriers that a market turn is around the corner will likely be revealed in Q1, as demand fades from peak season.”

Although the job number has now increased two consecutive months, there’s a long road to gain the high level of January 2023. The BLS reported that month there were 1,611,400 seasonally adjusted jobs in truck transportation, 28,400 jobs more than the December figure. But the all-time January high may not hold at that level after the annual revision is published next month.

Since then, a combination of the weak freight market and the Yellow closure has sent job totals sliding, highlighted by the 30,700 jobs reported lost in August, the same month Yellow went out of business. However, three monthly increases in the last four months sandwiched around a relatively small loss in October means that the December total of 1,586,300 was 16,100 jobs more than the August low.

Mazen Danaf, Uber Freight’s economist, noted some data in the specific sector numbers that lag the broad report by a month. “A closer look at the data indicates that the BLS report carried some signs of tightening in the freight market,” he said in an email to FreightWaves.

According to Danaf, the job growth in November came from more localized trucking and not from long-distance truckload employment, which he said fell to its lowest level since September 2022. That result, he said, is “more correlated with OTR rates.”

That data also showed no change in LTL employment data. “This indicates that the then-oversupplied LTL sector did not absorb Yellow’s former employees,” he said.

The other significant trend this year has been the continued loss of jobs in the warehouse sector. Seasonally adjusted employment in the warehouse sector has declined in 16 of the last 17 months. In the one month it didn’t drop, it was unchanged.

Figures in the latest report showed a relatively restrained decline. Jobs in the warehouse sector were down 4,900 jobs. That’s the fourth smallest monthly decline in 2023, but the end result is stark: Warehouse sector jobs in December 2022 stood at 1,933,400 jobs. A year later, they were 1,851,200 jobs, a drop of 82,200 jobs. 

The peak was in June 2022 at 1,960,300 jobs. Since then, the sector is down 109,100 jobs. 

In other highlights from the report:

Seasonally adjusted rail employment rose 500 jobs. Rail jobs rose sharply at the end of 2022, climbing 2,600 jobs over the last five months of the year after years of decline or stagnation. But that trend did not continue into 2023, with either little or no movement in rail employment. But the increase to 150,500 jobs takes employment in that sector to the highest level it’s been since the pandemic. But it’s a long way from the 209,800 jobs in April 2015, a recent peak. 

Average hourly earnings in truck transportation dropped 20 cents an hour to $30.51. Danaf looked at the sector data for November and noted that wages in the long-distance truckload sector fell 0.5%. “The below-inflation wage increase reflects carriers’ lower appetite to hire and retain drivers,” he said.



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