The JOC For-Hire Trucking Employment Index climbed to 96.1 in January from a revised reading of 95.9 in December and November, as trucking companies surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics hired about 3,200 workers.
Revised figures for November and December brought the index lower than previously reported but showed a slow increase in trucking employment, with the JOC index rising in fits and starts since last June.
Following the revision of the previous two monthly readings, January was the first month the index has climbed past 96 since June 2008. That indicates employment at for-hire trucking companies is about 4 percent below a pre-recession peak.
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.
The trucking employment index turned volatile in 2013 after increasing steadily since March 2010, when it hit its low point of 85.3. The monthly index dropped three times compared with once in 2012.
That volatility and a slower annualized rate of growth in the index indicate 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.
Brutally cold winter weather and supply chain disruptions may have slowed the pace of hiring in January, when many truckload carriers and logistics providers reported relatively strong freight demand.
Year-over-year, trucking employment was up 1.5 percent in January, compared with 1.6 percent in December and 1.7 percent in November, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.