Legacy Book

You are here

Chapter 4: Transportation Employment

The transportation and warehousing sector and related industries employ over 13.1 million people in a variety of roles, from driving buses to manufacturing cars to building and maintaining ports and railroads (box 4-1). This chapter explores transportation employment by industry, occupation, mode, and state, and highlights the significant role that transportation employment plays in the Nation’s job profile.

Transportation-Related Employment in the United States

Figure 4-1 shows the number and percent of workers in transportation-related industries from 1990 to 2014. “Transportation-related industries” includes all industries in the transportation and warehousing sector, as well as related industries like motor vehicle parts manufacturing. In 1990, 12.3 million workers were employed in these industries. Employment rose to a high of 13.9 million workers in 2000, but declined to 13.2 million by 2003 following the 2001 recession. Employment declined further to 12.1 million in 2010 due to the 2007 to 2009 recession. While employment has risen to 13.1 million as of 2014, it has yet to rise above the prerecession level of 13.5 million in 2007. At the same time, however, the percentage of American workers in transportation-related employment declined from 11.3 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 2014.

Transportation Employment by Industry and Occupation

Employment in the For-Hire Transportation and Warehousing Sector

The for-hire transportation and warehousing sector directly employs nearly 4.6 million workers in the United States—over 3 percent of the nation’s total labor force. Employment in this sector involves a number of occupations and covers a diverse set of skills. Figure 4-2 compares employment by the for-hire transportation and warehousing sector to employment in related areas such as retail trade (a major user of both for-hire and in-house transportation), the Postal Service (another important user of transportation), and government (which is involved in many aspects of transportation) (box 4-2).

Figure 4-3 shows for-hire transportation and warehousing employment from 1990 to 2014 by subsector (box 4-3). Each subsector exhibits different patterns of employment because they have a different mix of job skills and occupations as well as economic environments. For some subsectors, employment has grown from 1990 to 2014. For example, truck transportation employment grew by 26 percent between 1990 and 2014, from 1.1 million to 1.4 million employees, with significant fluctuations related to major economic events such as September 2001 and the Great Recession. Truck transportation is the largest subsector, employing 30.5 percent of the 4.6 million for-hire transportation employees in 2014. Warehousing and storage employment grew by 81 percent, from 406,600 to 738,000 employees, to become the second- largest subsector, overtaking air transportation in 1990. Meanwhile, transit and ground passenger employment, which experienced a growth rate of 69 percent from 274,200 to 465,000 employees, overtook air transportation at the close of 2014.

Not all for-hire transportation subsectors experienced employment increases from 1990 to 2014. For example, employment for couriers and messengers grew from 375,000 to 605,000 employees in the 1990s, but had decreased to 574,000 employees by 2014—most likely because some of their functions have been replaced by email and other telecommunications. Similarly, employment in air transportation increased from 1995 to 2001, but declined afterward, leading to an overall decrease in employment of 16 percent between 1990 and 2014, from 529,200 to 442,100 employees. Finally, rail transportation employment also declined by 13 percent from 1990 to 2014, from 271,800 to 235,000 employees.

Employment in Selected Transportation-Related Industries

Transportation also leads to employment in related industries that provide the goods and services needed to produce transportation. For example, transportation companies purchase transportation equipment (as do other companies engaged in in-house transportation), motor vehicle dealers and gas stations provide services that support household and business transportation, and a significant portion of the output of the petroleum industry is used for transportation.

Figure 4-4 shows trends in employment for selected transportation-related industries from 1990 to 2014. These industries include motor vehicle and parts dealers, transportation equipment manufacturing, gasoline stations, and petroleum and coal products manufacturing. A notable shift in transportation-related employment occurred during this period. From 1990 to 2002, transportation equipment manufacturing was the largest transportation-related industry. However, as employment in transportation equipment manufacturing experienced a prolonged decline, motor vehicle and parts dealers became the largest industry in 2002. Employment in motor vehicle and parts dealers grew by 24.6 percent from 1990 to 2014.

Transportation Employment by Occupation

Many workers in transportation-related jobs are not included in employment data for transportation industries because they work for non-transportation firms. Table 4-1 highlights the enormous variety of positions available in various industries using the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Understanding the full range of transportation jobs and skills in the economy requires examination of employment data at the occupational level.

Table 4-2 lists the annual number of transportation and transportation-related jobs by occupation from 2007 to 2015. This table is derived from occupational employment and wage estimates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program (box 4-4). Table 4-2 also includes sparkline charts showing trends in employment for each occupation. The red dot on each line shows the lowest point, while the blue dot shows the highest point.

The largest transportation-related occupation is heavy-duty truck drivers; in 2015, 1.7 million people worked as heavy-duty truck drivers. Four of the six largest transportation-related occupations in 2014 involve driving and account for 38 percent of total employment:

  • Heavy-duty truck drivers (1,678,280 million employees)
  • Light-duty and delivery truck drivers (826,510 employees)
  • School bus drivers (505,560 employees)
  • Driver/sales workers (417,660 employees)

Data by occupation over time show the changing face of transportation employment. For example, there has been a steady increase in employment for subway and street car operators, corresponding with the increase employment for the transit and ground passenger transportation industry.

From 1990 to 2015, employment in transportation and transportation-related occupations decreased by 2.3 percent. Some of the declines in employment are likely due to the December 2007 to June 2009 recession, but other declines in employment—for example, declines for postal service mail carriers and for couriers and messengers—portend structural changes in transportation employment.

Many employees of transportation companies, such as accountants and computer programmers, work in occupations that are not considered transportation occupations. Conversely, many workers in transportation occupations are employed in other industries, such as truck drivers working for retail chains. Figure 4-5 illustrates this difference. While total employment in the transportation and warehousing sector and total employment in transportation occupations measure the role of transportation in employment, they are different measures and may not move in tandem.

Part-Time and Full-Time Employment in Transportation-Related Occupations

Transportation-related occupations employ a slightly lower percentage of part-time workers than average (figure 4-6). The percentage of part-time workers in transportation-related occupations increased from 22 percent to 27 percent from 2008 to 2009 due to the recession, but has decreased to 23 percent in 2015.

Wages and Compensation for Transportation-Related Occupations

Figure 4-7 compares compensation for workers in transportation-related occupations and workers in all occupations from 2004 to 2016. Compensation includes wages and benefits. In current dollars, compensation for workers in transportation-related occupations increased 41 percent since 2004, to $27.89 in the first quarter of 2016. In comparison, wages for all occupations increased 36 percent to $33.94. Low-wage transportation occupations, like truck drivers and household movers, account for a much larger share of the transportation workforce than high-wage occupations like airline pilots. As a result, the average compensation for transportation- related occupations is about 6 dollars per hour less than the average for all occupations.

Figure 4-8 illustrates annual wages for the largest, lowest-paid, and highest-paid transportation occupations in the United States in 2015. Because some occupations are more seasonal, analysts use annual wage data instead of the average hourly compensation used in figure 4-7 to compare industry employment categories. Annual wages vary widely, from an average of over $100,000 for airline pilots to less than $25,000 for taxi drivers and chauffeurs. The 5 lowest-wage transportation-related occupations collectively employ 1.2 million workers, whereas the 5 highest-wage occupations employ 288,270 employees.

Airlines file detailed data with the Federal Aviation Administration, and BTS compiles the data to provide a detailed picture of airline labor. In 2014, approximately 260,000 employees worked in aircraft and traffic handling—for example, as baggage handlers, as flight dispatchers, or as reservations clerks. Approximately 80,000 employees worked as in- flight personnel, 50,000 worked in maintenance, 10,000 worked in general management, and 160,000 worked in other occupations.

Figure 4-9 uses airline data to show trends in average annual salaries for airline labor, adjusted for inflation. In-flight personnel salaries experienced the largest absolute growth, increasing by 32 percent, from $158,200 in 2005 to $209,100 in 2014. Salaries for employees in “other aviation occupations” experienced the largest relative growth, increasing by 77.4 percent, from $21,200 to $37,600 in the same period. Salaries rose for all groups except general management, whose salaries declined 41 percent from their peak of $144,784 in 2006 to a low of $86,000 in 2012 before slightly rebounding in 2013. Moreover, salaries for management declined precipitously from 2008 to 2009; this decline may be related to structural changes in the airline industry.

Transportation Employment by State

Transportation Establishments, Employees, and Payroll

Transportation establishments employ people throughout the United States. To highlight state-by-state variations in transportation, including variations in transportation employment, BTS publishes State Transportation Statistics (STS). The STS presents a statistical profile of transportation in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and contains over 100 tables of state data on infrastructure, safety, freight transportation, passenger travel, registered vehicles and vehicle-miles traveled, economy and finance, and energy and environment.

Table 4-3 shows information about transportation establishments, employees, and total employee payroll for each state; figure 4-10 shows the relative share of employees in each state. Self-employed workers, freight railroad employees, and government employees are not included. State transportation employment is highly related to population and locations of transportation hubs. The five most populated states—California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois—have the greatest number of establishments and employees, both because they have a large employment pool and because they contain national large transportation hubs like railroad interchanges or major ports.

Transportation establishments collectively account for 3.7 percent of total payroll in the United States. However, many transportation establishments are small businesses, as shown by the national average establishment size of 20 employees. Transportation establishments employ anywhere from 0.6 percent of total state employees in the District of Columbia to 7.5 percent of employees in Alaska. Accordingly, the share of total state payroll ranges from 0.4 percent in the District of Columbia to 10.0 percent in Alaska.

Employment by Mode

Tables 4-4 to 4-9 provide transportation employment data for each state by mode (air, water, truck, transit and ground passenger, and freight railroad), and figure 4-11 illustrates the state distribution of modal employment. While transportation employment remains related to population, there is some variation by mode. For example, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have the largest number of pipeline establishments, even though Louisiana and Oklahoma are the 25th and 28th most populated states. In contrast, while Florida is the third most populated state, it has relatively few pipeline establishments and ranks 27th among states. For freight railroad, Nebraska has the third-largest number of employees, despite being the 37th most populated state, due to the presence of a major railroad corporation.


Updated: Tuesday, June 27, 2017