Transport employment experiences largest spike in more than 20 years

July 2, 2020

Tyson Fisher


The U.S. economy experienced a major comeback in June, including massive employment gains in the transportation sector and trucking subsector.

The transport sector gained nearly 99,000 jobs in June. That marks the largest monthly job increase since September 1997, when transportation employment rose by more than 179,000 jobs. In August 1997, the sector experienced its second-largest employment decrease of 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. Issues were quickly resolved, resulting in the subsequent surge in transport jobs.

The trucking subsector also experienced a significant employment gain of more than 8,000 after a more modest increase of 2,000 jobs in May. This is the largest monthly increase since August 2018 when trucking employment increased by more than 11,000 jobs.

April’s trucking jobs loss was 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. That was likely the result of about 80,000 Teamsters going on strike after negotiations with Truck Management Inc. failed.

Numbers for June and May are preliminary.

Warehousing/storage employment experienced the largest increase with 60,500 more jobs in the economy. In a distant second, but still significantly high, is couriers/messengers (21,100) followed by trucking. Seven of 10 subsectors are experiencing job growth. The three job losses include air transport (minus 3,600), rail transport (minus 2,500) and pipeline transport (minus 400).

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 95,000 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.

So far, transportation jobs are down more than 400,000 for the year. This is a slight improvement from the more than 500,000 jobs lost year to date in May.

Average hourly earnings for the transportation and warehousing sector were $25.38 for June – a decrease of 31 cents. Earnings were up by 59 cents from June 2019.

Hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory jobs were also down by 18 cents to $22.76 from the previous month but up 28 cents year to year. Average hourly earnings for private, nonfarm payrolls across all industries were $29.37, a 35-cent drop from the previous month.

According to the report, the unemployment rate for transportation and material-moving occupations dropped to 14.7% compared to May’s rate of 18%. At this time last year, the unemployment rate in the transport sector was sitting at 5%.

Overall unemployment fell to 11.1%, with 4.8 million jobs added to the economy as a whole. In May, unemployment hit 13.3%. The jobless rate is still up 7.6 percentage points compared to February, just before stay-at-home orders were put in place.

Workers who are paid by their employer for all or any part of the pay period are counted as employed, even if they were not actually at their jobs. Workers who are temporarily or permanently absent from their jobs and are not being paid are not counted as employed, even if they are continuing to receive benefits.

In March, April and May, many people were misclassified as employed for pandemic-related reasons. June’s report includes modifications to survey questions and answers, resulting in fewer misclassifications. For a detailed explanation about how the pandemic has affected the monthly employment survey, click here.