Trucking employment has strongest month of 2021 in June

July 2, 2021

Tyson Fisher


Employment in the transport sector went up in June, thanks largely to big gains in three subsectors, including trucking.

Trucking employment went up by more than 6,000 jobs after losing nearly 3,000 in May. That is the largest increase this year and largest since November when trucking jobs rose by more than 12,000. Preliminary numbers initially showed a job loss of 1,500 in May. Revised data has April showing an increase of 1,800 jobs after initially reporting an increase of only 600.

Employment numbers for June and May 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 nearly 8,000 jobs. At this time last year, there was a decrease of nearly 90,000 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. However, May 2020 was the start of a nine-month streak of increases. Before the pandemic, the last time trucking employment was at current numbers was in May 2018. Last April, those numbers dipped to numbers last seen in fall of 2014.

In its analysis of the employment report, online freight network Convoy states that although June was a strong month, hiring may be an uphill battle moving forward.

To start, there has been no major increase in employment in states that have stopped additional unemployment insurance created during the pandemic. Some speculated that the extra payments disincentives people from seeking employment. Labor force participation is actually down among those 55 and older compared to this time last year, which eliminates around 500,000 fewer workers.

Despite reports of massive salaries being offered to truckers, Convoy points out the data tells a different story. According to its report, hourly wage gains for frontline transportation workers “have barely kept pace with core inflation over the first half of 2021.”

The transport sector experienced a modest gain of nearly 11,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last month’s report showed employment was up 23,000 jobs in the sector. Revised data now puts that number at nearly 21,000.

All but three of the transportation subsectors experienced gains, with warehousing/storage gaining the most (13,200), followed by air transport with 7,800 more jobs and trucking.

However, those gains were offset by a steep loss of nearly 24,000 jobs in the couriers/messengers subsector. Water transport and transit/ground passenger transport each experienced a minor loss of 100 jobs.

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 more than 61,000 jobs. This time last year, transportation jobs were down by more than 425,000 because of the pandemic.

Average hourly earnings for the transportation and warehousing sector were $26.75 for June – an increase of 47 cents from the previous month. Earnings were up by $1.57 from June 2020 after wages plummeted last year after a surge in the unemployment rate. Hourly earnings for production/nonsupervisory jobs were up by 12 cents to $23.74 and increased by $1.10 year to year. Average hourly earnings for private, nonfarm payrolls across all industries were $30.40, a 10-cent increase from the previous month.

The unemployment rate for transportation and material-moving occupations went down to 8.6% compared to May’s rate of 8.9%. At this time last year, the unemployment rate in the transport sector was sitting at nearly 15% due to the pandemic.

Overall unemployment remained mostly stagnant at 5.9% after the economy gained 850,000 jobs in June. The jobless rate is still up 2.4 percentage points from last February, just before the implementation of stay-at-home orders. However, unemployment has fallen by nearly 9 percentage points since last April. LL