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Truck transportation jobs drop again

Employment in the truck transportation sector in October recorded its fourth decline in the past five months as total jobs in that classification are now down more than 30,000 since its most recent high.

The decline of 5,000 seasonally adjusted jobs reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for October actually was a smaller drop than in July and August. With revisions in place for September and August, the past five months have recorded a decline of 1,400 jobs in June, 6,900 in July, 30,700 in August — when the demise of Yellow Corp. first hit the market — and 5,000 in October. Sandwiched in there was an increase of 13,400 jobs in September, which had suggested the BLS might have overshot the impact of Yellow’s closure.

The latest report, released Friday, revised the September truck transportation total down by 900 jobs, but the August total was cut 5,500 jobs from a month earlier.

After all the changes, October’s total truck transportation jobs of 1,578,600 is 30,600 fewer than the high-water mark of May, when the BLS reported 1,609,200 jobs.

While economists generally look at seasonally adjusted data, they caution that the not seasonally adjusted numbers should not be ignored. The jobs total for not seasonally adjusted truck transportation in October was 1,589,700, unchanged from September. September’s figure was revised down by 2,000 jobs.

That stability in the not seasonally adjusted number “indicates that carriers who are involved with supporting the retail peak season or other seasonal demand, such as food or Christmas trees, may have taken a step back this year from the normal hiring ramp up and are comfortable handling the seasonal demand surges with the staffing already in place,” David Spencer, the vice president of market intelligence at Arrive Logistics, said in an email to FreightWaves.

Spencer noted the capacity overhang that many have cited as the cause of the freight market doldrums, which he sees as more a function of many drivers and trucks not yet exiting the market. He said he was expecting further employment declines.

“The three and four month trends still highlight 22,000 and 29,000 job reductions, respectively, and that is a trend I expect could continue into 2024,” Spencer said. “Large quantities of drivers entered the market when there was money to be made in the spot market and balance must be restored before conditions can improve.”

The last time seasonally adjusted jobs in truck transportation were this low was April 2022, when they came in at 1,571,700. A month later, they rose by 12,100 jobs.

In other highlights from the report:

  • There was a huge divergence between seasonally adjusted and not seasonally adjusted jobs in warehousing. The October figure for not seasonally adjusted warehouse jobs was 1,902,000 jobs, a big jump of 32,400 from September (which in turn was revised upward by 3,300 jobs). But seasonally adjusted jobs in the warehouse sector declined 11,400 jobs to 1,871,000. The changes put the gap between seasonally adjusted and not seasonally adjusted jobs at 31,000. The end result of these changes is that seasonally adjusted warehouse jobs peaked last year at 1,960,300 in June. They are now 89,300 jobs fewer than that.

  • Labor costs softened in truck transportation. Hourly earnings of all employees declined to $30.49 in September; the data operates on a one-month lag. That is a 19-cents-per-hour decline. The most recent peak was $31 an hour in July.

  • While employment at Class 1 railroads has been described as a “mixed bag,” the overall picture coming out of the BLS is one of stability. The past three months after revisions were all reported as 150,200 jobs. A year ago it was 147,600 jobs, but that hiring boost appears to have fizzled out for now.

This article originally appeared on Freight Waves.

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

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