Are New Jobs Really New?
Two weeks ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released February employment figures showing that the for-hire trucking industry had added 10,200 new payroll jobs during the month. That’s the largest jump in a year. According to BLS estimates, the trucking industry has added more than 20,000 jobs in the past three months, 47,000 jobs, or 3.7%, in the past year and 97,300 jobs, or 7.9%, since the bottom of trucking employment in March 2010,
That’s impressive growth. It’s also almost certainly not true, at least quite to that scale.
Clearly, the trucking industry is rebounding, hiring drivers and adding trucks. But the process BLS uses to estimate payroll employment for trucking — and, indeed, for any high-turnover industry — basically guarantees inflated numbers.
The monthly employment situation report comes from something called the Current Employment Survey (CES), which is supposed to track net new employment at the industry level. The CES estimates the number of jobs in an industry by sampling the number of employees that are paid during the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. So no matter how long the employee works – one hour or perhaps, in trucking, one mile – an employee will be counted as being on an employer’s payroll.
Truck drivers represent the majority of trucking industry employees, and driver turnover is very high. But could carriers really replace their drivers quickly enough to make a significant difference in the CES? Apparently so. In the January 2012 Randall-Reilly MarketPulse survey, more than 35% of executives at for-hire trucking companies operating more than 100 trucks said that they typically replace drivers within a week.
So the trucking industry probably didn’t really add a net of 10,200 payroll employees in February, but it obviously added quite a few. BLS monthly employment figures — like almost all government data — may be imperfect, but they do provide a solid indication of where we are heading.