New York City’s transportation and warehousing sector regained 82% of its pandemic job losses as of April, trailing the nation, but faring better than the city’s private sector as a whole (73%), according to a report released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The sector’s relatively strong job gains over the past two years were fueled by increased demand for moving goods rather than people during the pandemic.
“The pandemic turned this sector upside down, and the jobs recovery reflects the significant changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic,” DiNapoli said. “Transportation and warehousing is crucial to keep New York City’s economy moving. As goods continue to be moved throughout the city at record-high volumes and visitors and commuters return, the city, with the help of state and federal partners, should continue working to build a sustainable freight and passenger network to help boost wages and employment.”
Job losses in the sector began in April 2020 and persisted through July 2020. In total, the sector lost nearly 40,000 jobs in that time. The sector recovered most jobs in 2021, and it is expected to fully recover its COVID-19 pandemic losses by the end of 2022, barring new economic disruptions to passenger travel or the global supply chain. According to the most recent data for May 2022, the sector continued to regain jobs (now at 89%) more quickly than the private sector overall. Nationally, transportation and warehousing fully recovered all jobs lost before the end of 2020.
With the explosion in e-commerce over the past few years, courier and messenger, and warehousing and storage subsectors, have led the recent employment growth and now well exceed pre-pandemic employment levels. This boom is likely to continue to impact the sector’s employment recovery and demand for real estate space in the future. Trucking is the most common mode of transportation to carry goods into the city.
Among the five boroughs, Queens accounted for nearly half of transportation and warehousing employment in 2021 as it is home to La Guardia and John F. Kennedy (JFK) airports. These serve as instrumental gateways into the city and were vital for managing the rising demand for passenger transportation prior to the pandemic. This demand historically fueled employment in the two largest subsectors of the transportation and warehousing sector in New York City: air, and transit and ground passenger travel. However, as the pandemic caused a severe drop in travel and commuting, employment in these subsectors suffered.
At its onset, the pandemic decimated flights worldwide. The number of boarded planes dropped more than 73% in 2020 at JFK and LaGuardia on a combined basis. In 2019, JFK served 62.6 million passengers, but that number remained below half of that level (30.7 million passengers) in 2021. Passenger figures exceeded 4 million in March 2022, an increase of 228% from 2021, as domestic travel continues to rebound strongly.
Transit and ground passenger transportation was also dramatically impacted by the pandemic. For-hire trips, including taxi rides, dropped by 84% in April 2020. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, only about a quarter of drivers were able to work during this period, garnering only half the typical wages.
More than half of the sector’s workers are Black or Hispanic men without a college degree. Most earn less than $60,000. The sector also has the highest share of foreign-born workers (58%) out of all the major sectors in the city.
DiNapoli’s report found:
- The New York metropolitan area ranks first among the top 10 metropolitan areas in the nation for number of transportation, warehousing and utilities sector jobs (394,600), accounting for 4.7% of private sector employment.
- Air transportation is the largest subsector, employing 26,550 workers in 2021 (which is down 5,400 from 2019).
- Transit and ground passenger transportation lost the largest number of jobs from 2019 to 2021, declining by 34% to 22,472 jobs.
- E-commerce taxable sales grew 78% between state tax period 2019 and 2021, and local delivery service taxable sales grew 149%, fueling the need for transportation services.
- Warehouses and storage industrial real estate sales grew 115% to $4.1 billion when comparing 2019 and 2021, while commercial properties overall declined 19%.
- Taxi drivers made up more than a quarter of sector employment (29%) in 2019 (compared to only 7% in the nation). New York City also had higher shares of bus drivers, flight attendants, and shuttle drivers and chauffeurs than the nation.
- In 2021, about 37% of transportation and warehousing workers were members of a labor union, compared to 21% of all public and private workers citywide.
DiNapoli’s report notes the full return of tourists and commuters to the city, which may remain depressed for the near future amid economic uncertainty, remains critical to bringing passenger transportation jobs back to pre-pandemic levels. New York state and New York City have also put in place programs to boost tourism and related businesses, which should help further boost the transportation and warehousing sector in 2022 and 2023.
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