Employment follow: A strong month for the logistics sector

The employment report released Friday morning reflects a trucking and logistics sector whose employment levels are starting to reflect the hefty activity evidenced in other data points.

After minor job growth in July compared to June, the number of trucking jobs in the U.S. rose by 10,000 in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In a history of employment data provided by the BLS going back to 2010, that is the fifth-biggest one-month gain.  

The BLS reported that jobs in the truck transportation sector stood at 1,449,500 in August, up from 1,439,500 in July. Those are seasonally adjusted figures, which are what economists generally look at. Non-seasonally adjusted numbers show that jobs increased a little less, to 1,466,800 from 1,458,000.

The seasonally adjusted numbers for August are still below the 1,531,500 jobs in August 2019, and all July and August numbers for 2020 are preliminary.

The report also increased the number of July jobs to 1,439,500 from the 1,438,600 originally reported. The unemployment report carries each month as preliminary for two months before becoming final. That 900-job increase means that truck transportation jobs are up 10,900 since June.

An even more impressive job gain figure was posted in the warehousing and storage sector. Its total of 1,221,600 jobs was up more than 34,000 from the 1,187,200 jobs of July. That outpaces the pre-pandemic year-ago number of 1,190,500.

Both those sectors are under the category of Transportation & warehousing. An unemployment rate is broken out for the entire transportation and warehousing sector, though not for the individual subgroups.

It shows that the unemployment rate for the sector as a whole declined to 13% from 15.7%. That 270-basis-point improvement is the largest in the history of the series going back to 2010, though there was a smaller gain several years ago that percentage-wise was larger. But the point remains that the drop in unemployment in the transportation and warehousing sector as defined by BLS had a historically good month in August.

In that sector, hourly wages are ticking up slowly. For all employees, they rose to $25.52 from $25.43 a month earlier. They were at $25.69 in May, near the start of the pandemic. 

But for nonsupervisory employees, like drivers, they are rising quicker. They were up to $23.33 per hour in August, a sharp jump from $22.57 in July. That is now the highest in the history of the series.

Average weekly hours also rose, to 38.5 in August from 38.3 in July. Back in May, that figure was 37.8.

With June figures now complete and no longer preliminary, second-quarter data can be published. In the transportation and warehousing sector’s second quarter, total compensation costs rose 3.7% year-on-year, while wages and salaries were up 4.5%. 

Rail transportation, which has been on a downward trend for more than a year, actually showed a slight uptick in jobs. They stood at 145,400 in August, up 100 jobs from a month earlier. But the seasonally adjusted number from a year ago is 172,600, showing that the impact of precision railroading kicked off a decline in employment long before the pandemic started.

Also in the transportation and warehousing sector, couriers and messenger jobs in August climbed to 923,300. That was up almost 8,000 jobs from the prior month but more starkly is up more than 100,000 jobs from a year ago, when that category stood at 821,500. 

One notable category in the truck transportation data alone — as opposed to transportation and warehousing in total — is the breakdown in employment for all employees and for those in production and nonsupervisory jobs. That figure isn’t available yet for August. 

But the report just issued does now have data for July. It shows that while total employment in truck transportation rose to 1,439,500 in July from 1,432,400 in May — a gain of 7,100 jobs over two months — employment in the production and nonsupervisory category rose far more, to 1,276,000 from 1,248,200, an increase of 27,800 jobs, indicating softness in the management sector but stronger employment opportunities on the front line. 

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