Trucking employment down in April, but up for the year

May 7, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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Employment in the trucking industry fell in April, but remains higher than at the beginning of the year.

Trucking employment went down by 1,500 jobs after gaining more than 3,000 in March. Preliminary numbers showed a job loss of 4,000 in February. However, revised data puts that number at 1,800. Still, February broke a nine-month streak of trucking jobs increases.

Employment numbers for April and March are preliminary.

The trucking subsector had a net loss of 42,500 jobs in 2020. This is far from the largest annual decrease. In 2009, more than 100,000 trucking jobs were lost, preceded by employment being down by 76,500 jobs in 2008 during the Great Recession. In 2001, another recession year, trucking jobs fell by more than 49,000.

Compared to the end of 2020, trucking employment is up more than 1,000 jobs. This time last year, there was a decrease of 93,000 jobs after the trucking subsector experienced its biggest monthly loss since tracking of the subsector began in 1990 due to the pandemic. April 2020 was hit the hardest by the pandemic because of new stay-at-home orders nationwide, causing businesses to shut down or modify operations. Resulting job losses in trucking erased more than five years of trucking employment growth.

In its analysis of the employment report, online freight network Convoy states April’s drop in trucking jobs “adds further fuel to the idea that something isn’t working in the labor market for truckers.”

“Active employment among owner-operators is at or above pre-pandemic levels (depending on the benchmark one references), but there is also evidence of elevated numbers of owner-operators sitting on the sidelines of the labor market (e.g., employed but not working, unemployed, or having recently left the labor market for retirement or other reasons),” Aaron Terrazas, Convoy’s director of economic research, stated. “The gap between elevated slack and net employment gains for owner-operators has been driven by reasonably strong new entrants.”

The transport sector had a significant loss of more than 74,000 jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A job loss of more than 77,000 within the couriers/messengers subsector is responsible for the huge drop in the sector.

All but three of the transportation subsectors experienced employment losses, with couriers/messengers losing the most, followed by warehousing/storage with more than 4,000 fewer jobs. Air transport had the best month of the 10 subsectors with a job gain of 6,500, followed by scenic/sightseeing transport and transit/ground passenger transit, each with more than 2,000 additional jobs. Pipeline transport was unchanged.

The transportation sector experienced a job loss of nearly 93,000 last year. Like trucking employment, the transportation sector as a whole had worse years in 2009 (minus 273,800), 2008 (minus 153,800) and 2001 (minus 235,700). Year to date, the transport sector is up 13,000 jobs, thanks to large gains in February and March. This time last year, transportation jobs were down by more than half a million because of the pandemic.

Average hourly earnings for the transportation and warehousing sector were $26.08 for April – a significant increase of 41 cents from the previous month.

Earnings were up by 43 cents from April 2020. Hourly earnings for production/nonsupervisory jobs were up 11 cents to $23.00 and increased by 18 cents year to year. Average hourly earnings for private, nonfarm payrolls across all industries were $30.17, a 21-cent increase from the previous month.

The unemployment rate for transportation and material-moving occupations went down to 8.8% compared to March’s rate of 9.7%. At this time last year, the unemployment rate in the transport sector was sitting at nearly 18% due to the pandemic.

Overall unemployment rose slightly from 6% to 6.1%, after the economy gained 266,000 jobs in April, a significant slowdown in growth. The jobless rate is still up 2.6 percentage points from last February, just before the implementation of stay-at-home orders. However, unemployment has fallen by 8.7 percentage points since last April. LL

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Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.