Update: Trucking jobs up by 8,100 in June; still below year-ago levels

Trucking jobs rose in June by 8,100, but it’s the warehouse sector that is posting the most spectacular gains in the supply chain world, according to the latest monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Seasonally adjusted preliminary figures showed trucking jobs rising to 1,440,700 in June from 1,432,600 in May. In May, there had been a small jump of 2,000 jobs from April. (All numbers for May and June are preliminary).

But the figures in June were still well below the 1,535,300 in June of 2019. 

The non-seasonally adjusted figures showed a much bigger jump for trucking jobs in June. They rose to 1,453,500 jobs, up from 1,430,200 jobs in May. 

Warehousing and storage jobs climbed more than 60,000 jobs in the  month, up to 1,194,400 jobs during June, up from 1,133,900 in May. However, the non-seasonally adjusted figures showed a less significant jump, up to 1,187,600 in June from 1,182,100 in May. The non-seasonally adjusted figure for June of last year was 1,176,700.

Railroad jobs continued their decline, a trend that started long before the pandemic as precision scheduled railroading and its push to reduce headcount spread through the industry. In June, the preliminary seasonally adjusted number of jobs in the rail sector was 145,800, down from 148,300 in May. Last June, that number was 175,800.

Trucking industry employment has declined, but it has also been more stable than employment in other industries,” Convoy director of economic research Aaron Terrazas said on a blog post about the BLS report, part of his regular monthly commentary on the  jobs report. “During the worst of the pandemic – from February to April – trucking industry jobs fell by 8%, compared to a 10% decline among healthcare jobs and a 50% decline among food service jobs.”

Convoy uses its own methodology to estimate truck driver jobs, a figure that is not specifically broken out. Convoy estimates that the number of truck driving jobs, compared to all workers, has dropped by about 7%, split equally between company drivers and independent owner-operators.

Paul Sheard, a PhD economist and research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School who studies labor markets, was less than thrilled with the overall report, which saw the unemployment rate decline to 11.1% from 14.3% a month earlier. “Looking just at month-to-month changes in the employment numbers you can spin a positive story and the ‘delta’ is what the forward-looking stock market focuses on, given that the prior bad news is all discounted,” Sheard said in an email to FreightWaves. “Even after two months of big payroll numbers, payrolls are nearly 15 million below where they were in February. That’s nearly 10% of February’s workforce.”

On the same day that the monthly jobs report was announced, the initial jobless claim figure showed 1.43 million people applying for first-time unemployment benefits. Sheard cautioned that number, rather than the monthly figure, should not be overlooked.

“That is the 15th horrendous number since the shutdown started, bringing the cumulative total to nearly 49 million (about 30% of February’s workforce),” he wrote. “There is a lot of commentary to the effect that the employment numbers (this month and last) are much better than expected or forecast, but forecasts mean very little in this environment. It is very hard to reconcile the various pieces of employment data, let alone forecast them with any accuracy. So that is a pretty silly benchmark.” 

A background factor that should not be overlooked is that some level of employment is being maintained by the Paycheck Protection Program. Although new applications were ended June 30, the House of Representatives has followed the Senate lead in extending the program into August The legislation now requires President Trump’s signature to become law.

Other numbers from this month’s employment report of note to the trucking and freight sector:

– There is a broad category of data called Trucking and Warehouse. The unemployment rate in the sector was 14.6% in June, down from 15.6% in May. In March, it was 5.4%.

– The total number of employees in that field was 5,178,800 in June, up from 5,080,100 a month earlier. (All May and June numbers are preliminary). Back in March, the figure was 5,668,200.

– Average hourly earnings were down to $25.38 in June from $25.69 in May. But people are working longer hours at that lower pay – average hours worked was 37.8, up from 37.7 in May but down from 37.9 in March.

–Air transport jobs rose to 5,178,800 in June on a preliminary seasonally adjusted basis. That’s up sharply from 5,080,100 in May. But a year ago, the number was 5,622,700.

For more articles by John Kingston, please go here.

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