February 19, 2009 9:00 AM, EST

Trucking’s Growing Job Losses

This Editorial appears in the Feb. 16 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Trucking suffered the greatest loss of jobs in history during January, excluding the month of the national drivers’ strike in 1994.

Data from the Labor Department show that 24,900 people lost their trucking-related jobs during the month, with fleets shrinking their worker ranks as freight levels plummeted.

The transportation and utilities sector of the job market (they are combined by the Labor Department) now has a national unemployment rate of 8.4%, well above the 7.6% rate for the labor market as a whole.

Trucking has lost jobs in 12 of the past 13 months, for a total decline of 106,100 over that span.

To place these job losses in perspective, during 2008’s mediocre freight market, trucking lost a total of 73,000 jobs, which means the January losses alone amounted to about one-third of last year’s decline.

The only larger monthly job loss came in April 1994, when a national Teamsters strike led to an employment decline of 49,400.

And more bad employment news is likely ahead for trucking. Job losses usually trail behind declines in freight volume, and January wasn’t much better than December’s dismal results.

“I wouldn’t expect [employment] to go up” in February, said Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations. “Will it be as bad as January? It’s hard to say.”

Several large carriers have announced additional job cuts in recent weeks, something sure to exacerbate future employment numbers.

Meanwhile, there was some good news for trucking last week: Both the truck-related fatality rate and the truck-related fatal crash rate fell to record lows, according to data just released by the Department of Transportation for 2007.

The fatality rate fell to 2.12 deaths per 100 million miles driven by large vehicles, a 5.8% decline from the previous low, set in 2006.
The fatal crash rate, which measures how frequently truck crashes result in a fatality, dropped to 1.85 per 100 million miles, a 4.1% drop from the previous record, also set in 2006.

Both numbers represent safety performance since DOT began keeping those records in 1975.

While there were surely an array of causes for the improved numbers, it is clear to us that the new hours-of-service regulations deserve some of the credit. We should all feel some pride in this improvement in highway safety.