The Journal of Commerce For-Hire Trucking Employment Index fell 0.5 percentage points to 94.9 in March, the first decline for the motor carrier hiring barometer since September 2012.
The decline reflects the loss of 6,900 jobs among the for-hire trucking companies surveyed monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released overall employment data for March on April 5.
The average national unemployment rate dropped from 7.7 percent in February to 7.6 percent in March, as the U.S. economy created 88,000 jobs, the slowest hiring pace in nine months.
The seasonally adjusted BLS data and JOC index show a 0.5 percent decline in trucking employment from February through March, much larger than the 0.1 percent drop in the same period a year ago.
The JOC employment index reading for February was revised to 95.4 from the originally published 95.6 based on revised data from the BLS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The 0.5 percent decline in the index and BLS data is the biggest check on the gradual expansion of trucking's payroll since the JOC index began to climb from its March 2010 low point of 85.3.
However, the 94.9 reading still indicates trucking employment is just 5.1 percent below its last peak in the fourth quarter of 2006. The JOC index is based on average employment in that period.
The decline may reflect the loss of seasonal workers and part-time employees hired over the winter holidays. Unadjusted BLS data show a slight gain in trucking jobs from February to March.
The number of part-time workers in the U.S. fell by 350,000 in March, according to the BLS. At the same time, manufacturing slowed in March, according to the Institute of Supply Management.
The BLS, which surveys more than 110,000 for-hire trucking companies each month, may adjust its payroll data by the time the April employment situation summary is released in early May.
Since January, the year-over-year increase in trucking employment per month, measured in number of jobs, has dropped from 46,600 to 34,500 jobs, according to the seasonally adjusted BLS survey.