More workers in truck transportation in 2022 than earlier estimate

The January employment report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, released in early February, is watched not just for the change in jobs numbers from December, as is the case in the other 11 months of the year.

More importantly for labor economists, annual revisions to the underlying model are implemented and they can result in big swings in the estimates of employment levels in some sectors. And that is what happened in truck transportation and warehousing in the figures released Friday. 

Data released by the BLS shows that for most of 2022, there were a lot more people working in the truck transportation sector than originally reported on a seasonally adjusted basis, and that figure continued to rise in January.

Comparing the latest figures from BLS on 2022 shows significant differences with what the agency was carrying as jobs levels a month ago. For example, the BLS now reports that the truck transportation sector had 1,557,400 jobs in January 2022 to start the year. But its “final” report after the usual revisions had been listing January as having 1,545,700 jobs in January. (The first three times a month’s employment level is reported are considered preliminary, with the third time being “final” until any annual revisions.)

The revisions resulted in every month of 2022 showing higher figures than what had been reported, except for an 800-job drop in May. Some of the revisions were considerable; beyond the 11,700 jobs in January, February was 8,200 jobs higher than originally reported and March was a 7,800-job increase. Even the last three months of the year, which supposedly was in the midst of a big trucking slowdown, showed increases of 6,600, 6,100 and 9,100 jobs.

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The end result is that with January 2023 employment at 1,614,700 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, that figure starts the year 3.6% higher than the revised figure for January 2022. But the more stark comparison is that before the latest release by the BLS, somebody looking to see how many jobs the truck transportation sector had in January 2022 would have found a figure of 1,545,700 jobs, a difference that is a combination of both the revision and the rate of growth in jobs January to January.

Warehouse job figures were once again revised sharply upward, the second year in a row for such a change. The December 2022 figure is now 1,937,100 jobs, which is 211,900 jobs more than what was reported a month ago. And while there were several months during the year when warehouse jobs were reported to have declined sequentially from the prior month, and that is the case with the revised numbers, the revisions were so large that every single revised figure is more than the originally reported number.

Among other highlights in the latest report:

  • Through both revisions and job growth, rail numbers are starting to trend higher. The January figure of 149,400 jobs was the highest level since before the pandemic. Rail reported jobs in April 2020 of 154,800 jobs was soon followed by pandemic-related layoffs to a fairly steady range of either side of 145,000 jobs since mid-2020. The December figure also was revised upward to 148,900 jobs, signaling that railroads, under pressure to add workers, may be responding.
  • Truck transportation production and nonsupervisory workers saw their average hourly pay decline to $27.87 per hour in December from $28.55 in November. It’s the first time since August that the figure was less than $28 per hour.
  • Although it was released several weeks ago, the Producer Price Index for truck transportation bears mentioning. It slid in December to 193.952, a 1.7% drop from November. It is now 4.8% less than the recent high of 203.759 in May.

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