While the U.S. nonfarm labor force grew significantly in September over August's numbers, transportation and warehousing was largely left on the sidelines, in what could be another sign that the sector is having trouble attracting qualified workers.
About 4,644 transportation and warehousing workers were added to the nation's nonfarm payrolls in September, a 1.9-percent increase from the prior month's figures, according to monthly data released today by the Department of Labor. The "warehousing and storage" subcategory actually hired fewer workers month-over-month, as did the "air transportation" subsector. The "truck transportation" subsector added 3.8 percent more workers in September compared with August. The "courier and messenger" subgroup added 4.8 percent more workers, an increase that could be attributed to the growth in demand for local or urban delivery services to support e-commerce transactions.
Rail transportation employment expanded by 1.3 percent month-over-month, while employment in water and pipeline transportation declined slightly. The monthly jobs report also culls data from services that support passenger operations, as well as scenic and sightseeing activities.
On the whole, the jobs report came in much better than anyone anticipated. The economy created 248,000 nonfarm payroll jobs last month, well above estimates of 215,000 new jobs. The August data was revised upward to 180,000 new jobs. The overall unemployment rate in September fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since July 2008.
Whether the stagnant September data for transportation and warehousing was due to slack demand for services or a shortage of labor is open to interpretation. However, few service providers are reporting any weakness in demand. On the supply front, shortages of qualified commercial truck drivers have been widespread and are becoming more commonplace. In addition, an annual survey of warehouse and distribution center labor trends conducted by staffing firm ProLogistix said the supply of qualified warehouse and distribution center workers is tighter than it's been since 2007. The survey raised concerns that some firms may not have enough labor to accommodate their burgeoning pre-holiday fulfillment needs.