Multi-Modal: Transportation and Warehousing in Oregon

by Gail Krumenauer

February 17, 2021

The transportation and warehousing sector includes many modes of travel, in addition to the mail and deliveries that come to our doors. During the pandemic recession, years of gains in some types of transportation were reversed, as staying home became the norm. At the same time, the pandemic intensified what was already an increasing reliance on deliveries and the distribution system that gets them to us. As a result, this broad sector’s employment is surging, in stark contrast to the slow overall employment recovery from the pandemic recession.

Transportation Trends

By Air

Not all portions of the transportation and warehousing sector have seen their employment soar. After adding nearly 1,700 jobs between 2013 and 2019, air transportation lost 600 jobs through the first three quarters of 2020. That 11% decline was similar to the 10% drop in air transportation employment during the Great Recession. The airline jobs in this subsector have struggled through the pandemic. Employers primarily using helicopters to transport Christmas trees and logs can be found in air transportation too. From high demand for holiday trees to regular logging or wildfire salvage operations, these businesses had a busy 2020.

Airports are among the establishments classified in the support services for transportation subsector, which employed 8,400 jobs on average in the first three quarters of 2020. That was a 9% decline from 2019. While quite a shock to the industry, that was much smaller than the roughly 60% to 96% decline in foot traffic, for example, at Portland International Airport from spring through fall 2020. In addition to airports, transportation support services includes employers supporting marine operations and some vehicle towing companies, among others.

Over the Road
Truck transportation remains the largest piece of the overall transportation and warehousing sector. This subsector includes 18-wheelers in both generalized and specialized freight. From 2009 to 2015, the industry recouped the 2,200 jobs lost in the Great Recession. Employment remained relatively flat in recent years, then declined by 3% to an average of 18,400 jobs in the first three quarters of 2020.

By comparison, the transit and ground transportation subsector saw much more job movement over the years. After growing from 9,900 jobs to 12,300 (24%) between 2009 and 2019, transit and ground transportation fell to an average of 10,600 jobs (-13%) in the first three quarters of 2020.

Roughly half of transit and ground transportation employment consists of local government jobs in city and regional mass transit, and many school districts’ bus operations. Jobs in these organizations fell to 5,300 (-7%) between the third quarters of 2019 and 2020. Over the same period, the taxi, charter bus, and related privately owned ground transportation jobs declined by 37% to 3,400.

While there was undoubtedly decline in these operations due to reduced travel, the available data can’t fully represent the trends in this industry. That’s because ride-hailing and gig-type food delivery services are not included in covered employment statistics.

Instead, these workers show up in the nonemployer statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes anyone with at least $1,000 in income reported on their income tax Schedule C. Nonemployer estimates show rapid growth in the number of ground and transit nonemployers. They accounted for 10,000 of the 44,800 nonemployers added in Oregon between 2009 and 2018. Within transit and ground passenger transportation, nonemployers identified specifically in taxi and limousine services accounted for 9,400 of the gain, and increased by 907% over the period.

December Deliveries

Two subsectors of transportation and warehousing carry correspondence, care packages, and other deliveries door to door: couriers and messengers, and the postal service. For years, the private couriers and messengers subsector has shown a distinctive and increasing seasonal pattern. They tend to ramp up hiring in the fourth quarter, hitting an employment peak each December. After the flurry of holiday deliveries, sector employment winds down and generally stays near its low for the year between April and July.

The seasonal swing in employment became more pronounced from 2009 to 2019. The difference between peak (December) employment and the lowest employment month in the same year generally ranged between 1,200 and 1,700 jobs from 2009 to 2012. In 2013, the seasonal swing in payroll employment rose to 2,000, and continued to grow to 3,000 in 2014 and 2015. By 2019, the difference between monthly job highs and lows totaled 4,700. Once the fourth quarter 2020 data are available, that difference will likely widen again.

More to Your Door

In addition to more December deliveries, couriers and messengers businesses have also been hiring to meet greater demand for online shopping and deliveries to our doors year round. From 2009 to 2019, annual average employment grew by 4,300 jobs, or 69%. The global pandemic intensified this trend. Fleets of big brown trucks, gray vans, local grocers, and their counterparts collectively added 1,500 jobs (14%) between 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020.

Warehousing and Storage

While the gray vans, brown trucks, and mail carriers give visuals in the neighborhood, they’re fueled by rapid growth in the warehousing and storage subsector, primarily dotted along Oregon’s highways. Just between 2018 and the first three quarters of 2020, employment grew by 8,200 jobs to 18,100. That’s an 82% increase and does not yet include the peak holiday delivery season for 2020. While the big, public announcements of new Amazon operations play a role here, big box stores with warehousing and storage operations have grown recently too.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Speaking of Amazon: One side-effect of increased demand for delivered items has occurred in employment at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Nearly all postal service employment is found in federal government. Following the loss of about 2,000 jobs between 2002 and 2014, postal service employment stabilized between 6,900 and 7,100 jobs statewide in recent years. While that can’t be solely attributed to their deliveries for Amazon, the behemoth e-tailer’s partnership with USPS has likely supported some postal jobs amid declines in penned letters, and the postal service’s funding challenges.

As Amazon’s gray fleet more vertically integrates their entire door-to-door distribution system in more heavily populated areas of the state, it could reduce some future need for USPS to deliver on their behalf. Whether pandemic, funding, Amazon-related, or other, postal service employment declined by 2% between 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020.

The Road Ahead

While most types of transportation grew in the decade prior to the pandemic, all have lost jobs over the past year. Meanwhile, deliveries and distribution systems hit new employment peaks in 2020. Given the continued growth of e-commerce, particularly during the holidays, and the expanding presence of Amazon in Oregon and elsewhere, the 2019 to 2029 growth outlook for both couriers and messengers (22%) and warehousing and storage (27%) is strong. By comparison, Oregon’s anticipated total employment growth will be 9%.

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