March 9, 2024

Jobs report: Truck transportation employment flat; warehouse jobs drop again


Jobs in the truck transportation sector mostly treaded water in February while warehouse jobs continued their long slide, according to the monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the truck transportation sector, the loss of 300 jobs was the smallest one-month change up or down since August 2022, when an increase of 300 jobs was recorded. The total for February was 1,551,200 jobs.

More significantly, on a seasonally adjusted basis, the January figure of 1,551,500 jobs was down 4,200 jobs from the original number reported by the BLS. The most recent December figure was adjusted downward as well, by 1,500 jobs, to a “final” December figure of 1,551,800 jobs.

The combination of the small downward move between January and February and the larger downward adjustment between December and January means that the February total of 1,551,200 jobs is 600 fewer than where it stood in December.

(The BLS reports job figures for three months, with the first two eligible for revision for two months before they become “final.” But they are not completely final, as all months are subject to a significant revision when the January report is released each February.)

The February total was down down 28,300 jobs since a year ago. But with some strength in November and December, the job total is up 3,000 jobs since October.

David Spencer of Arrive Logistics noted the lack of significant upward and downward movement in recent months. “Relative stability in employment levels have been the theme, with total employment fluctuating up and down in a window of a few thousand jobs,” Spencer said in an email to FreightWaves. “This stability is likely a result of the relative stability in the truckload demand environment we have seen over this period driven by strong consumer spending and a rundown of inventories that has retailers returning to just in time ordering patterns.”

On the warehouse side, employment numbers are across-the-board ugly. They’ve dropped 11 of the past 13 months; the 6,800 jobs lost from January to February was just the seventh-biggest total of those 11, with the low-water mark coming in March of last year when 30,000 jobs were lost. The February total of 1,758,700 jobs is 183,500 jobs fewer than the high-water mark of 1,942,200 jobs set in May 2022.

Among other data in the report:

  • Mazen Danaf, the senior economist at Uber Freight, highlighted the hours worked by nonsupervisory employees in long-distance trucking. Data for specific subsectors of truck transportation are on a one-month lag. Danaf said that weekly figure for January fell “sharply” in the past year to 40.3 hours, which was close to the level of April 2020, the depth of the pandemic. Taking out April 2020, that number had not been that low since 2003, Danaf said.
  • Monthly data on truckload employment has been inching lower. In January, it reached 544,300, the lowest level since May 2022. A year ago, it was 551,300 jobs.
  • While there has been focus on recent layoffs and furloughs at some of the nation’s Class 1 railroads, there was little sign of it in the report. Seasonally adjusted rail employment declined to 152,800 jobs, down just 200 jobs from 153,000 jobs a month earlier. It was also down from a revised December figure of 153,100 jobs. Rail employment is still slightly above the 151,400 jobs where it stood a year ago, but most critics of rail hiring practices would say it should be significantly higher to generate greater customer service.
  • The not seasonally adjusted numbers for truck transportation showed a sharper drop in employment than what happened with the more widely followed seasonal numbers. Not seasonally adjusted truck transportation came in at 1,524,500 jobs, down by 5,100 from January. What was particularly stunning was the downward revision between December and January. December’s “final” number for truck transportation jobs on a not seasonally adjusted basis was 1,557,800 jobs. The drop to the revised January figure was 28,200 jobs.
  • Shannon Gabriel, the vice president of the leadership solutions practice at TBM Consulting, looked at the numbers in trucking and warehousing through a different lens: the number of people trying to get in the field and the openings posted elsewhere.

“In the past 30 days, there have been 138,209 supply chain requisitions listed on LinkedIn,” Gabriel said in an email to FreightWaves. “While truck, water, and rail transportation jobs were just marginally down in February, compare those openings to 45,455 technology/software openings, which are positions we know continue to be plagued with layoffs. In contrast, there were only 233,256 resumes posted within the supply chain field on Indeed (past 30 days), while technology had an overwhelming number of resumes at over 1,400,000.”

Job totals in the BLS report mask what Gabriel said were the “dynamics occurring within the supply chain.”

“The demand to hire remains strong,” she said. “The war on talent can cripple the number we are expecting each month, but that doesn’t equate to it being negative.”

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