Freight transportation employment was virtually flat last month while a closely watched survey of non-manufacturing activity showed a sharp drop in import growth.
Seasonally adjusted jobs in air, water, rail and truck transportation, which employ more than 2 million workers, rose only by 3,100 jobs in May, the Labor Department said. All but 800 of those were in air transport.
Trucking, which accounts for nearly 1.3 million jobs, had a seasonally adjusted increase of just 100 jobs. Railroads added 400 workers, to 222,200, while water transportation employment rose by 300 to 64,500, government data show.
The transport jobs statistics were included in Friday’s unemployment report, which showed the jobless rate rose to 9.1 percent while the economy created only 54,000 new jobs, down from 232,000 in April. Private payrolls added 83,000 jobs, their weakest month since last June, while state and local governments shed 30,000 jobs.
“The weak May jobs report is the latest piece of evidence that the economy’s soft patch is proving even softer than feared,” Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a commentary.
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Gault said the soft job totals probably reflect rising commodity costs that have crimpled consumer spending and raised business costs. He said softening commodity prices may aid consumers and businesses that have been cautious about hiring, and could help exports in the months ahead.
The Institute of Supply Management’s monthly index of non-manufacturing businesses showed export orders growing faster than imports. The ISM non-manufacturing index showed an overall increase to 54.6 from 52.8 in April, with a reading above 50 signaling expansion.
The imports component of the ISM survey dropped sharply to 50.5 from 57 in April, with declines reported for the categories of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, wholesale trade and retail trade. The export index, meanwhile, rose to 57 from 53.5.
The Global Port Tracker published by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates expects containerized imports at major U.S. ports to level off this summer before rising in August with the start of the annual peak season for holiday shipments.
Journal of Commerce Economist Mario O. Moreno recently lowered his forecast for 2011 growth in containerized imports to 4.6 percent from 6.7 percent three months ago, largely due to high fuel prices and weak housing and jobs markets. He raised his export growth forecast to 10 percent from 8.3 percent, citing the weak dollar and rising overseas demand.