The transportation sector was a breakout star in the latest jobs report thanks to historic shortages and the upcoming holiday season
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- The United States added 136,000 jobs in September, a lower-than-expected number, but still enough to keep unemployment at a 50-year-low.
- Manufacturing continued to suffer as a casualty of President Donald Trump’s trade war, but there was one surprise star of the economy: transportation.
- Public transit is slowly recovering from years of shedding riders, new data shows, and agencies are hiring like crazy in order to catch up.
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The United States’ economy may be near full employment, but that isn’t stopping some industries from hiring like crazy.
Transportation, in particular, was one of the sectors that got the biggest boost in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its monthly release Friday. Not only was it a breakout star, the industry rose from an August shrinkage to add 16,000 jobs.
It might have been the end of summer but retailers’ holiday preparations are underway, and the season’s onslaught, coupled with e-commerce’s continued growth, is behind the growth, economist said.
“Transportation and warehousing also added 15,700 jobs,” Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, said. “as the holiday hiring season kicks off, and employers prepare for the anticipated growth in demand for transportation from the explosion of e-commerce. By contrast, retail shed 11,400 jobs as retailers follow the shift in consumer demand online.”
Transit and ground-passenger transportation also contributed to transportation’s September boon. Like many skilled labor jobs, cities and school districts simply can’t find enough bus drivers, especially in the face of rising costs of living.
“Transit agencies across the country are fighting a losing battle to keep bus operations at current capacity as it gets harder to fill operator positions,” the Eno Center for Transportation wrote last month. The nonprofit think tank estimates another 200,000 empty driver positions will emerge by 2022.
“The perfect storm of low unemployment, high turnover rates, and negative perceptions of the job work together to make hiring and keeping qualified workers an uphill battle,” it said.
Filling those positions will be especially important as public transit ridership begins to turn positive in some US cities for the first time in years. Data from the American Public Transportation Association shows that 2.5 billion Americans used public transportation in the second quarter of 2019, an 11 million jump over the same period of 2018, The Washington Post reported.
But not all transportation is created equal.
Trucking also saw a yet another “bloodbath” in the latest tally, sinking by 4,200 jobs, according to the BLS report. That slump continues the industry’s recession, into which it slipped during the first half of 2019, according to ACT Research.
Read more: Another 4,200 truck drivers lost their jobs in September as a recession slams America’s $800 billion trucking industry
That’s likely been fueled by some weakness in manufacturing, Josh Wright, chief economist of the software company iCIMS, said.
“This economy is not just still on its feet, but still moving forward,” he wrote, but “with manufacturing weak and the labor market only modestly in positive territory, much depends on consumer spending and the Fed’s reaction function.”