And now to be sure: the number of truck transport orders increased in October

After a month earlier a report looked as if hiring in the trucking sector had finally exhausted itself and a decline in the workforce was imminent, data for October has now turned that idea on its head.

In a sharp reversal, hiring in the trucking sector, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, added a whopping 13,200 jobs in October. Not only that, but the September number has been revised up a sharp 7,100 jobs, which was reported a month ago.

A month-long increase of 13,200 jobs is the third largest in the history of BLS data, which stretches back to 2012. The two months greater than this occurred earlier this year.

The end result of the new data and the changes is that the first seasonally adjusted trucking jobs reported by the BLS were 1,580,800 jobs in September. And with the upward revision of the original September data and then further gains in October, October trucking jobs totaled 1,601,100 jobs, almost 20,000 jobs more than the original figure the BLS produced for September.

However, the latest September job count of 1,587,800 was still lower than the August report of 1,597,400 jobs, which was not revised last month. The math then is that September was first reported as down significantly, then it was reported as actually down less, and then there was the upside for October. All of this added up to 3,700 more truck transport orders in October than in August.

That’s not a huge difference between August and October. But given that last month’s report looked like it would signal the end of more than two years of almost uninterrupted increases in the number of trucking workers, the reduction reported last month was – either in the original numbers or now in the revised numbers – so significant. Also noteworthy is the fact that the industry has now closed again.

A topic of discussion in the markets of late has been at least anecdotal evidence that some independent owners, caught between rising diesel and other costs and falling tariffs, are staying behind the wheel but doing so as employed drivers, meaning that these economic factors belong to someone else to deal with problem. Drivers who are owners do not appear in the BLS data, but do appear when behind the wheel as employees.

As surprising as the trucking data was, the warehousing and storage numbers were an eye-opener the other way. Jobs in the sector plummeted to 1,742,100 jobs, down 20,000 jobs from a revised September figure. But the initial count in September was 1,782,200 jobs, so warehouse jobs are now down about 40,000 jobs compared to what the BLS originally reported in September.

Also notable in the inventory figures was the dichotomy between seasonally adjusted jobs and non-seasonally adjusted data. There was a gap of 24,900 jobs between the non-seasonally adjusted and the seasonally adjusted figure, far larger than normal. This large gap resulted from the fact that warehouse jobs in October were up a little less than 10,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis from September, but were down a seasonally adjusted 20,000 jobs.

On its website, the BLS said seasonal adjustment is “a statistical technique that attempts to measure and remove the influences of predictable seasonal patterns to show how employment and unemployment change from month to month.”

“Over the course of a year, the size of the labor force, employment and unemployment levels, and other measures of labor market activity are subject to fluctuations due to seasonal events, including weather changes, harvests, major holidays and school schedules,” wrote the BLS. “Because these seasonal events follow a more or less regular pattern each year, their influence on statistical trends can be eliminated by seasonally adjusting statistics from month to month. These seasonal adjustments make it easier to observe the cyclical underlying trend and other non-seasonal movements in the series.”

However, some economists have warned that the non-seasonally adjusted numbers should not be ignored and can also show trends. The inventory data shows a completely opposite trend to the seasonally adjusted figures.

In other data from the monthly BLS report:

  • Wages in truck transport continue to rise. Hourly wages for all workers in the sector rose from $29.50 to $29.70. For production and non-supervisory staff, it rose more sharply from $27.88 to $28.21.
  • Despite this wage increase, the producer price index (PPI) for the trucking sector fell 0.5%, possibly due to lower diesel costs.
  • The upward move in trucking wages contrasted with what was happening in warehouses, where wages for all employees fell 2 cents to $22.39. For production and non-supervisory staff, it was down 5 cents to $21.39. Department store PPI rose 0.2%.
  • Employment levels in the rail sector continued to move slowly, but sometimes backwards. The rail sector employed 147,100 people in October, 100 fewer than in the previous month. In September 2020 there were also 147,100 jobs in the industry. The highest number in this interim was 148,100 jobs. The lowest value was 143,800 jobs.

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