More than five years of truck employment growth erased in one month

May 8, 2020

Tyson Fisher


COVID-19’s disruption to the economy is reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s employment report for April, showing the largest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. The trucking industry was not immune to COVID-19’s effects on job losses.

The transport sector lost nearly 600,000 jobs in April, by far the largest monthly decrease since the Bureau began the monthly reports for the sector in 1972. Most subsectors took large hits in employment amid massive layoffs that were the result of stay-at-home orders nationwide.

The second-largest decrease came in August 1997, when the sector lost nearly 150,000 jobs. That was likely the result of about 185,000 Teamsters members working for UPS walking out after the union and company failed to reach an agreement on pension funds and part-time employees.

The trucking subsector experienced a massive job loss of more than 88,000 after losing 3,400 jobs in March.

April’s job loss for trucking is the largest since the Bureau began tracking the subsector in 1990.

At a distant second, nearly 50,000 trucking jobs were eliminated in April 1994. Again, that was likely the result of about 80,000 Teamsters going on strike after negotiations with Truck Management Inc. failed.

Numbers for March and April are preliminary.

Transit and ground passenger transportation experienced the largest decrease with more than 185,000 fewer jobs in the economy, followed by air transport (minus 141,000) and trucking. Only one subsector experienced an increase in employment. Couriers and messengers saw an increase of nearly 2,000 jobs in April.

The trucking subsector had a net gain of more than 4,000 jobs last year, a far cry from the nearly 55,000 job increase in 2018. However, the employment situation last year is better than 2016’s loss of 4,000 jobs. To date, trucking employment is down nearly 91,000 jobs due to April’s downward spiral.

At about 1.4 million jobs, this sets trucking employment back to numbers last seen in November 2014, erasing more than five years of job growth.

The transportation sector had a net gain of more than 118,000 jobs in 2019. Last year was the slowest year for growth since 2013 when transportation employment increased by only 77,500 for the year.

Average hourly earnings for the transportation and warehousing sector were $26.01 for April – a substantial one-month increase of 82 cents. Earnings were up significantly by $1.35 from April 2019.

Hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory jobs were also up significantly by 73 cents to $23.33 from the previous month and up 95 cents year to year. Average hourly earnings for private, nonfarm payrolls across all industries were $30.01, a dramatic $1.34 increase from the previous month. The massive increase is likely due to severe job losses among low-paid workers, thus skewing the average.

According to the report, the unemployment rate for transportation and material-moving occupations skyrocketed to 18% compared with March’s 7% rate. This time last year, the unemployment rate in the transport sector was sitting at 4%.

Overall unemployment increased sharply to nearly 15% with nearly 21 million jobs lost. This marks the highest unemployment rate since the Bureau began compiling monthly data on the rate in 1948. It is estimated that nearly a quarter of American were unemployed at the peak of the Great Depression. April’s loss was also the largest one-month job loss on record, which began in 1939. Aside from March’s loss of 870,000 jobs, the next largest loss came amid the Great Recession in March 2009 when employment was down by 800,000 jobs.