Employment report follow: July trucking employment numbers look higher but a June downward revision was significant

For all the signs pointing to a stronger freight market, the numbers in the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) were decidedly mixed for the transportation sector.

Most notably, the BLS significantly changed its estimate of total employment in the trucking sector in June. Although the report that was released Friday, August 7 was for July, numbers remain preliminary for two cycles. So the May numbers are now no longer preliminary but the  June numbers, first released July 3, remain so. (Whatever number for June published next month will be considered final.) 

After sorting through the numbers, the key takeaway is that truck transportation employment in July was up from the June numbers, but the revised June number was cut significantly from a month earlier.  The report now shows that the number of jobs in the trucking sector in July was actually less than what everybody five weeks ago thought was the number for June, the now-revised figure of 1,440,700 jobs.

The most closely watched number is the latest – the number of truck transportation jobs in the U.S. for July. It was up in July by 2,000 to 1,438,600 in July, up from the revised figure of 1,436,600 in June, according to the report.

The revised figure for June marked a reduction of 4,100 from what it released on July 3 in the June report. When that 1,440,700 figure was first released, it signaled an increase of more than 8,000 jobs from May. The numbers are seasonally adjusted.

May’s “final” number released this month came in at 1,432,400. It had been 1,432,600. So what looked like an increase of 8,100 jobs in the trucking sector from May to June, to 1,440,700 from 1,432,600, was in reality an increase to 1,436,600 jobs (the latest preliminary June number) from 1,432,600 (the final May number), a gain of 4,000  jobs. 

Even after you tack on the estimated 2,000 jobs added in July in the latest release, up to 1,438,600 jobs, the trucking market now has fewer people employed in it than it thought it had in June, despite the fact that the latest report shows an increase in jobs. 

The July number is down from 1,553,600 a year ago, for a net decline of 115,000 jobs.

‘There are other numbers sprinkled throughout the report that suggest some headwinds for trucking employment. 

The unemployment rate for the entire transportation and warehousing sector was up to 15.7% in July. It was 15.2% in April. That 15.7% is the highest in the series going back to 2010. 

The one number that is strong relative to the employment of drivers comes in the breakdown of production and nonsupervisory employees versus entire employment in the sector. Total employees in the sector in July of 1,438,600 was up 8,000 over the level of April. The data for subgroups of that lags a month. But it shows that through June, as the number of all employees rose 6,000 from April to 1,436,600, the number of production and nonsupervisory employees – which would include drivers – rose to 1,266,000 from 1,234,400. This is a gain of 31,600, indicating a significant shift in the workforce away from management and more to those on the road and on the loading docks.

But overall employee earnings in the sector are not recovering. Earnings for all employees was $25.98 per hour in June (the latest month for which data is available), down from $26.17 per hour in April. And even though the employment figures show a trend toward hiring more nonsupervisory employees, their wage is only up $0.02 from April, at $24.04. It also was reported down from $24.16 in May.

But everybody’s working more – all employee hours worked is at 41, up from 38.8 hours in April. For production and nonsupervisory employees, it’s up to 41.7 hours from 39.4 hours. That figure of 41.7 aligns exactly with the average number of hours worked between 2010 and 2019 for nonsupervisory employees. 

Jobs in the rail sector continue to shrink, driven down by lower traffic and the ongoing push into precision railroading, which has lower employment levels as one of its key foundations. The preliminary estimate for July was rail jobs of 141,500, down from a June level of 144,700. That June number in turn was revised downward from the earlier preliminary figure of 145,800. On top of that, the final May figure of 148,000 was down 300 from the preliminary May figure of 148,300 released a month ago.

The bottom line is that in July, there were 141,500 rail workers. A year ago, there were 175,200.

One of the biggest increases in the transportation sector continues to come in the category of couriers and messengers. In July, that figure stood at 916,900, up from the revised June figure of 907,700. And that revised June figure was up almost 3,000 from the earlier preliminary June number of 904,800. In July of last year, there were 773,600 workers in that sector for a 12-month gain of 18.4%.

The warehousing and storage sector has seen employment levels grow over where they were a year ago. In July, employment in that area of 1,188,700 was less than the June figure of 1,194,400, but was above July 2019 numbers of 1,180,000.

More articles by John Kingston

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