The JOC For-Hire Trucking Employment Index edged up only slightly in December, rising to a reading of 96.5 from 96.4 the previous month, as trucking companies hired fewer workers than in any month since August and overall hiring slowed.
The U.S. economy added 74,000 non-farm jobs in December, far below the 183,000 monthly average for 2013, with pre-holiday gains in retail and wholesale employment. Retailers added 55,000 jobs in December, above their average.
Trucking hiring, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday, sputtered almost to a stop, with only 100 payroll jobs added by the more than 110,000 trucking companies tracked by the Labor Department bureau.
Those companies added 12,300 jobs from September through November, hiring 8,300 workers in November alone, and have expanded their payrolls by 24,800 jobs over the last 12 months, according to the monthly BLS employment data.
December’s 96.5 index reading was the highest since June 2008. The JOC index turned volatile in 2013 after increasing steadily since its low point of 85.3 in March 2010. The monthly index dropped three times compared with once in 2012.
That volatility and a slower annualized rate of growth in the index indicates trucking companies are finding it hard to build on the employment gains in 2011 and 2012 in a market where truck drivers are hard to recruit and keep.
Even so, the index is now only 3.9 percentage points below its pre- or early-recession high of February 2007. An increase in freight demand in 2014 could move the index reading toward a peak, as long as that increase is ongoing and steady.
The JOC index uses a seasonally adjusted average trucking employment figure for the fourth quarter of 2006 as its base, providing a means to compare current employment levels and their growth rate with pre-recession employment.