Despite an overall drop in unemployment, trucking employment was basically flat in September, with only a slight gain in seasonally adjusted payroll head count, according to preliminary data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Non-adjusted data show a 4,900-worker drop in trucking employment in September, the first loss in overall jobs this year. Seasonally adjusted, trucking employment rose by 700 jobs at the more than 100,000 motor carriers surveyed by the BLS.
That compares with 1,300 additional jobs in trucking in August, 5,200 jobs in July, 3,900 jobs in June and 6,500 jobs in May, according to the latest BLS data.
The minimal increase kept The JOC For-Hire Trucking Employment Index at 93.4 in September, the same reading as in August. That was the highest reading for the monthly index, which tracks trucking employment trends, since October 2008.
The employment index is up 9.5 percent from its low point in March 2010, but its rise slowed in recent months, as trucking companies struggled to find and hire qualified drivers and eased up on hiring amid spreading economic uncertainty.
Trucking employment was up 3.6 percent year-over-year in September, compared with 3.7 percent in August, 3.5 percent in July and 3.2 percent in June. However, in the first nine months of 2012, trucking payroll only increased 2.2 percent.
In the same period last year, trucking employment increased 2.6 percent. The slower hiring rate in 2012 coincides with dropping for-hire truck tonnage and an overall reduction in the pace of economic growth since the end of 2011.
Trucking employment is still 7 percent off its high point in January 2007, when the JOC trucking employment index hit 100.4. The index was above 100 from December 2006 through March of 2007, before sliding steeply toward the recession.
Will the unexpected September increase in private-sector employment, including 17,000 new jobs in transportation and warehousing, lead to a surge in trucking jobs in the fourth quarter, coinciding with demand for pre-holiday freight shipping?
In the last three months of 2011, trucking added 13,700 jobs, for a 1.1 percent increase in employment from September 2011. In 2010, 12,600 jobs were added in the same period, a 1 percent increase from the end of the 2010 third quarter.
Those were the first fourth-quarter employment gains in trucking since 2007, and at about 1 percent were stronger than the 0.5 percent September-to-December increase in trucking employment that year, or the 0.8 percent increase in 2006.
Unless freight demand is stronger than expected, especially in November and December, this year’s last-dash gain in trucking employment is unlikely to match the increases of the past two years, when the economy was more robust.
Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wbcassidy_joc