After the American Trucking Associations settled on a driver shortage figure of 80,000, trucking industry leaders and government officials went all-in to fill the void. But as the country moves into murky economic water in 2023, some freight transportation insiders appear to be misinterpreting the trucking employment forecast. Recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates more CDL holders were onboarded in November, and trucker demand remains high.
The BLS provided a brief narrative in the November jobs report that lumped general transportation and warehousing employment metrics together. At first blush, this summary makes it appear trucking jobs were in retreat.
“Employment in transportation and warehousing declined by 15,000 in November and has decreased by 38,000 since July. In November, job losses in warehousing and storage (-13,000) and in couriers and messengers (-12,000) were partially offset by a job gain in air transportation (+4,000),” according to the BLS.
But the fine print later in the report breaks down occupations and those numbers tell a different story. According to the BLS report, couriers and messengers saw a monthly decline of 12.4 percent, and warehouse jobs dipped by 12.5 percent.
On the plus side of the ledger, transit and ground passenger transportation grew by 3.5 percent and truck transportation professionals swelled their ranks by 1.3 percent. It’s also important to note that the freight transportation sector topped 1.6 million jobs in October. By the end of November, seasonally adjusted trucking jobs were at an all-time high.
Waning consumer demand has certainly affected warehousing jobs and that has begun to bring freight rates down to more normal levels. But essential goods and materials are primarily transported by Class 8 commercial motor vehicles. And consumer goods are not necessarily the only niche that drives trucking employment. The same BLS data shows growth in related fields.
For example, the country experienced a 3 percent employment growth in mining and logging. Construction jobs grew by 20 percent and workers need trucked-in materials to build. Manufacturing enjoyed a 14 percent bump overall and automotive parts dealers added 10.1 percent. That figure actually helped buoy the general retail numbers that plummeted by 29.9 percent from October.
Another metric that points to truck drivers weathering the possible economic headwinds in 2023 is rising salaries. Large fleets continue to offer sign-on bonuses for experienced truckers. Small operations are prepared to offer good-paying positions and training for newly-minted CDL holders. Recent data indicates company drivers with little to no experience can earn between $68,263 and $87,750, with an average salary of about $79,785 per year. Experienced drivers are hitting the six-figure mark and big box retailers such as Walmart and Target, among others, are well above $100,000 for experienced fleet drivers. Companies simply wouldn’t be throwing that kind of pay at truckers unless they were in demand. The hard numbers back that up.