The Bureau of Labor Statistics said back in August that its annual employment model revision was likely to show a large drop in the estimated number of 2023 truck transportation jobs when it came out in February.

On Friday, the agency delivered on that forecast. 

On top of that, it sharply revised downward the number of 2023 jobs in warehouses as well. 

The key number in the data is that a month ago, when the BLS came out with its regular report on the number of truck transportation jobs, the agency said there were 1,586,300 jobs in that sector in December. When the latest report was released Friday, the revision showed that in December, there actually were 1,553,300 jobs in truck transportation, a drop of 33,000 jobs.

BLS data is subject to revision for two months after it is initially published and then subject to what can be a large revision — like this year — when the February report is published.  

Under the first revision, the BLS publishes an estimate of jobs nationally in its hundreds of individual sectors, of which truck transportation is one. That number is then subject to revision for two months after that before it becomes “final.”

But “final” only lasts until a larger revision of the underlying model for calculating jobs totals is implemented in January. Last year, the annual revision showed more people working in truck transportation throughout 2022 than originally estimated.  

The revision is sweeping, impacting the job totals for years before 2023 as well, as the agency continues to collect data. But the revisions to 2023 are of a greater magnitude than the shifts a year ago when higher levels were posted for 2022.

For example, the model in use through 2023 showed that the all-time-high level of truck transportation jobs was recorded in January 2023, at 1,611,400. That figure then was reported to have trended down throughout the year until it hit a low for the year at 1,583,000 jobs in November before an upturn in December to 1,586,300 jobs.

But with the revised model, that 2023 low of 1,583,000 jobs under the “old” model would have almost been the highest number for 2023. Under the new model, January 2023 employment in the truck transportation sector was 1,587,000 jobs. But that was 24,400 jobs fewer than originally estimated.

January 2023 no longer is the all-time high in truck transportation. August 2022 is now the new “king” of truck transportation employment, at 1,587,600 jobs, 600 more than the latest revision for January 2023.

The difference between the original 2023 estimates and the revised grew throughout the year. For example, the gap between the original figure for January and the revised figure for January of 24,400 jobs widened to 33,000 jobs by the end of the year.  

On a shorter-term basis, truck transportation jobs in January 2024 rose to 1,555,700 jobs from 1,553,300 jobs, an increase of 2,400 from December. The December data and the January figure are both on the same model. 

David Spencer, vice president of market intelligence at Arrive Logistics and a regular commenter on the BLS data, said in an email to FreightWaves that there are signs in the new model that a bottom has been reached. August employment in the new model was 1,543,100 jobs, 12,600 fewer than the latest figure for January of 1,555,700  jobs. 

“The data appears to be telling the story that trucking employment bottomed in August 2023 and has been back on the rise since,” Spencer wrote. “However, trucking conditions remain challenging and this trend would go against expectation that employment levels should continue to moderate given the current spot rate environment.”

But with a market consensus that the weak trucking market is more a problem of excess supply than of weak demand, Spencer cautioned that the rise in employment the past few months may mean prolonging current conditions. “Carriers may be looking ahead to a potential shift in market conditions and not wanting to miss out on the opportunity when it presents itself, which could lead to a continuation of trucking jobs growth, and potentially result in an extension of the ongoing market conditions that are eroding profits.”

Continued downward move in warehouse jobs

The warehouse model also showed fewer jobs in 2023 than originally reported, after the annual revision the past two years showed a sharp increase. (The report published in February 2022, with revisions for 2021, marked the first time warehouse jobs were reported to exceed truck transportation jobs, a shift that occurred only because of the annual revision.)

For example, the top number under the warehouse model in place throughout 2023 was 1,960,300 jobs in June 2022. Since then, jobs in that sector had fallen almost every month through the end of 2023, with a final figure for last year coming in at 1,851,200 jobs. 

But according to the revised model, the highest number of warehouse jobs was 1,942,200 jobs in May 2022, 18,100 jobs fewer than the earlier reported peak of June 2022. 

By the end of 2023, warehouse jobs under the revised model were 1,773,500 in December. That is a whopping 77,000 jobs fewer than what was reported under the old model for December 2023 employment.

Rail job numbers higher

One additional key data point: Rail employment data, which has been a focus of some industry critics, benefited from the revisions. In December, rail employment was reported as 150,500 jobs. But the revisions put December employment at 153,000 jobs, falling to 152,600 jobs in January.

Specific trucking sectors

Breakdowns of the truck transportation data by individual types of transportation are on a one-month delay. Mazen Danaf, an economist with Uber Freight (NYSE: UBER), said those numbers show a drop in long-distance drivers and an increase in local freight employment.

“For example, local general freight employment rose 1.3K and local specialized freight employment rose 1.4K in December,” Danaf said in an email to FreightWaves. “These were about 3% to 5% above their year-earlier levels.”

But long-distance truckload was down 900 jobs in December and was down 1.4% year on year. Specialized long-distance freight was down 800 jobs in December, Danaf said.

“The data continues to show gradual capacity correction in the oversupplied long-distance freight sector, which could drive spot rates higher in the coming months, but not as severely as what happened at the onset of COVID, where trucking employment fell 5% overnight,” he added.

More articles by John Kingston

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