March brought increases in employment across U.S. surface transportation industries, with mild job gains in trucking, rail and waterborne commerce breaking a long downtrend during the recession.
The increases covered every transport mode except air. For the other groups the increases were solid enough to push up not only the raw month-to-month numbers from February but also the seasonally adjusted numbers that are designed to show employment beyond normal springtime hiring trends.
Even matching the seasonal needs reflects an improvement, as the recession was so deep that many economists say the longer-running seasonal trend computations usually overstate the amount of growth needed right now to reach past activity norms.
The report from the Labor Department also showed gains in warehousing and manufacturing, which are key customer groups that help drive freight shipments. It showed mild growth for the hard-hit construction industry, in line with rail data showing new construction materials demand in recent weeks.
Labor said its total transportation and warehousing group added 24,900 actual jobs in March to hit nearly 4.107 million. Even after adjusting for seasonal norms, the group managed to show about an 8,000 gain. That’s not much, but it breaks a trend that has seen declines in nearly every month over the recession period and even after the economy began growing again last year.
Trucking, the single largest group, added more than 10,000 jobs last month to nearly 1.205 million. That works out to a gain of under 1,000 when seasonally adjusted, but until March trucking employment has not managed to grow with seasonal patterns due to weak freight demand. In February, trucking had shed 3,000 jobs even after seasonal adjustment.
Rail transport, which is dominated by the big Class I freight lines but includes small carriers and intercity passenger train operations, added about 800 actual jobs in March to reach 213,900. Water transportation, dominated by freight, added 900 jobs to reach 59,600 and break even with its traditional March hiring trends.
Warehouse employment grew to 637,100 from 630,000 in February. Air, where most jobs are tied to passenger travel, slid to 450,700 from 451,200. Transportation support activities, which can cover some logistics help not counted elsewhere, grew to 535,000 from 532,900 and grew somewhat more on a seasonal basis.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.