The pace of hiring in trucking slowed in March, when for-hire carriers increased payroll 3.2 percent year-over-year but lost jobs compared with February, according to preliminary data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday.
Seasonally adjusted trucking employment numbers dropped one tenth of a percent last month from February’s peak, when trucking jobs increased 3.7 percent year-over-year, according to an analysis of the Labor Department agency’s data.
The sequential drop represents 1,900 jobs and is the first decline in the seasonally adjusted trucking employment figures tracked by the BLS since last July. Unadjusted data showed a 0.6 percent month-to-month increase in trucking jobs in March.
Trucking hiring hit the brakes as U.S. job growth slowed to 120,000 in March after three straight months of 200,000-plus gains. The unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent, its lowest level since January 2009, from 8.3 percent in February.
The trend in the BLS payroll numbers reflects a trucking industry that spent 2011 trying to rebuild its work force decimated by the recession. Trucking employment dropped 15 percent from its January 2007 peak through March 2010.
Over the past two years, trucking employment has climbed 8 percent. In the last six months of 2011, the trucking industry boosted payroll 3.7 percent year-over-year on average, creating more than 14,300 jobs, according to the BLS data.
In January, trucking employment jumped 4.1 percent year-over-year, but growth slowed to 3.7 percent in February and 3.2 percent last month. That compares with 2.6 percent, 3.9 percent and 4.6 percent growth in the same months of 2011.
The more than 100,000 for-hire trucking operators tracked by the BLS added about 41,400 jobs over the past year, and more than 98,000 jobs since March 2010. The actual number of motor carriers and carrier employees in the U.S. is much higher.
However, the BLS tracks a statistically significant portion of the for-hire trucking industry’s payroll in its monthly survey. The agency’s trucking employment figures include office workers, managers and mechanics as well as truck drivers.
Truck drivers, in particular, have been difficult to hire, according to motor carriers. That puts a limit on how quickly carriers can add capacity. BLS occupation and wage data show the number of tractor-trailer drivers increased 2.9 percent last year.