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Employment overall lags, while trucking adds 4,400 jobs in July

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WASHINGTON — Employers pulled back on hiring in July, but the job gains were still enough to lower the U.S. unemployment rate a tick to 3.9 percent from 4 percent.

Employers added 157,000 jobs last month, a modest gain, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s below the 215,000 average for the first seven months this year, but economists said the decline will likely prove temporary.

And although hiring overall slacked off some, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that trucking gained 4,400 jobs in July compared with June.

Consumers are spending freely and businesses are stepping up their investment in buildings and equipment, accelerating growth. That’s raising demand for workers in industries ranging from manufacturing to construction to health care. The economy expanded at a 4.1 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the strongest showing in nearly four years.

The smaller job gain likely reflected some one-time factors, analysts said. Local governments cut 20,000 jobs, the most in more than two years. Most were in education, suggesting some of the decline reflects the start of summer school holidays.

And sporting goods, hobby and toy stores shed 32,000 jobs, by far the most on records dating back to 1990. That is the result of the Toys R Us bankruptcy, economists said.

Excluding those factors, hiring in July would have been closer to the monthly average this year.

The government also revised hiring totals for May and June to show that another 59,000 jobs were added in those months.

“This job growth is nothing to be disappointed about, particularly at this stage of the recovery,” said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at job search website Indeed. The economy is now entering its tenth year of expansion, and hiring has actually accelerated this year compared with 2017, surprising most analysts.

Stocks rose moderately after the report was released. The Dow Jones industrial average increased 82 points in mid-day trading to 25,408.

Average hourly pay gains remained modest, increasing 2.7 percent from a year earlier, the same as the previous two months. That has puzzled Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and many economists. Typically, when unemployment has fallen below 4 percent in the past, wages have increased at a faster pace.

With rising gas prices pushing up inflation, Americans actually saw their inflation-adjusted pay decrease in the past year. Consumer prices rose 2.9 percent in June from a year earlier, more than the average wage gain.

One cloud on the horizon has been the Trump administration’s trade fights with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The White House has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum and on $34 billion of imports from China, and several companies have hit U.S. imports with retaliatory duties.

Yet the trade fights didn’t appear to impact hiring last month. Manufacturers, among the most directly affected by the import taxes, added 37,000 jobs, the most in seven months.

Manufacturers have likely benefited from oil and gas drillers nearly doubling their investment in drilling rigs and other structures this spring. That’s boosted factory output of steel pipe and other drilling equipment. The new spending follows a 60 percent jump in oil prices in the past year.

Companies say they are struggling to find workers, with job openings higher than the number of unemployed for the first time in decades.

In response, many firms appear to be giving part-time workers longer hours. The number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time work has fallen nearly 13 percent in the past year and now stands at 4.6 million. That’s the fewest in 11 years.

And the underemployment rate — which includes discouraged workers no longer searching for work, as well as involuntary part-time workers — dropped to 7.5 percent, the lowest in 17 years, from 7.8 percent.

Brian England, the owner of BA Auto, a car repair shop in Columbia, Maryland, would like to add another technician and an apprentice to his 18-member staff.

Yet auto repair work requires more technical skills than the past because of the increasing concentration of computers and electronics in newer cars. He also wants his mechanics to have teamwork skills because complex repairs can require more than one worker.

He has raised starting pay roughly 10 percent in the past two years, from $60,000 to between $65,000 and $70,000.

“The more you make an employee healthy and happy, the more that they’re going to stay with you,” England said.

Lower-skilled workers are also benefiting from companies’ demand for labor. The unemployment rate for those without a high-school diploma fell to 5.1 percent, the lowest on record.

The economy is projected to grow at about a 3 percent pace for the rest of the year, which would likely mean that growth for all of 2018 would top 3 percent for the first time since 2005.

 

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The Nation

CVSA’s Brake Safety Week scheduled for September 15-22

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During Brake Safety Week, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety. (The Trucker file photo)

GREENBELT, Md. — The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Brake Safety Week is scheduled for September 15-22.

Throughout that week, enforcement officials will conduct roadside safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles throughout North America.

Vehicles with critical brake violations, or other critical vehicle inspection item violations, will be restricted from traveling until those violations are corrected. Vehicles without critical vehicle inspection item violations are eligible to receive a CVSA decal indicating that the vehicle passed inspection.

During this year’s Brake Safety Week, inspectors will be paying special attention to brake hoses/tubing.

While checking these brake system components is always part of the North American Standard Inspection Program, CVSA is highlighting brake hoses/tubing as a reminder of their importance to vehicle mechanical fitness and safety.

Routine brake system inspections and component replacement are vital to the safety of commercial motor vehicles. The brake systems on commercial motor vehicles are comprised of components that work together to slow and stop the vehicle and brake hoses/tubing are essential for the proper operation of those systems. Brake hoses/tubing must be properly attached, undamaged, without leaks and appropriately flexible. Brake hoses/tubing are an important part of the braking system so when they do fail, they can cause problems for the rest of the braking system.

“We all know how important a properly functioning brake system is to vehicle operation,” said CVSA President Chief Jay Thompson with the Arkansas Highway Police. “All components of the brake system must always be in proper operating condition. Brake systems and their parts and components must be routinely checked and carefully and consistently maintained to ensure the health and safety of the overall vehicle.”

Out-of-adjustment brakes and brake-system violations represented 45 percent of all out-of-service vehicle violations issued during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck enforcement campaign.

And, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 2018 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, brake-related violations accounted for six of the top 20 most frequently cited vehicle violations in 2017.

Thompson said the goal of Brake Safety Week is to reduce the number of crashes caused or made more severe by faulty brake systems on commercial motor vehicles by conducting roadside inspections and identifying and removing unsafe commercial motor vehicles from our roadways.

In addition to inspections and enforcement, outreach and awareness efforts by law enforcement agencies to educate drivers, motor carriers, mechanics, owner-operators and others on the importance of proper brake maintenance, operation and performance are integral to the success of this safety initiative.

In the 14 jurisdictions using performance-based brake testers (PBBT), vehicle braking efficiency will be measured using that tool. PBBTs determine overall vehicle braking efficiency or the total brake force over the effective total gross weight. The minimum required braking efficiency for trucks or combinations with gross vehicle weight rating above 10,000 pounds is 43.5 percent, required by § 393.52 of the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the CVSA North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria.

Brake Safety Week is part of the Operation Airbrake Program, sponsored by CVSA in partnership with FMCSA and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nation

Diesel prices drop everywhere, and by more than a nickel in California

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 3.5 cents for the week ending June 17, to currently stand at $3.07 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For the second week in a row, diesel prices fell in every region of the country, with California seeing the largest drop, 5.2 cents, to stand at $4.006 per gallon. This is in contrast to roughly a month ago, when California was seeing price increases while most of the rest of the nation was experiencing a drop in diesel prices.

Overall along the West Coast, diesel fell 4.9 cents this week, to $3.666. Not including California, diesel prices along the rest of the West Coast are down to $3.23 per gallon, down 23.5 cents from a year ago.

East Coast diesel prices didn’t drop quite as far. In New England, the price dropped 3.2 cents, to finish at $3.153 per gallon. The Central Atlantic region continues t have the highest prices on the East Coast, at $3.282 following a decrease of 2.6 cents. The Lower Atlantic saw a decrease of 2.5 cents. The price for a gallon of diesel there is currently $2.964, one of three regions where diesel has fallen below $3.

With a drop of 4.5 cents, the Midwest claims the second-lowest current price for a gallon of diesel, $2.957, well off the low-price leader, the Gulf Coast region, where diesel is now $2.820 after a drop of 2.3 cents.

The Rocky Mountain region also saw a sharp drop, 4.2 cents, to stand at $3.072, which is 26.7 cents lower than a year ago, the largest year-to-year drop.

On Monday, Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 70 cents, or 1.13%, to settle at $62.01 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 23 cents, or 0.44%, to settle at $52.51 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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The Nation

Truck Driver: A job for some, a game for others

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When people ask me about my job, one of the most common questions is where we get stuff to write about.

I wish I could say we keep our company Lear Jet on permanent standby to whisk us from Little Rock to wherever the action is.  The truth is nowhere near as cool. We get most of it right here at our desks.  Some of it comes to us in the form of press releases. We find other stuff on the news wire services, like Associated Press. A lot of the rest of it, we get from Googling.  If we see something big or breaking, or cool and weird, we look into it.

My day usually starts with a keyword search of the world. A few days ago, it appeared that one item was by far the most important thing happening on planet Earth, at least under the headings “truck,” “trucking” and “tractor-trailer.” There were about a half-dozen websites posting on it. Immediately, I refreshed my coffee, then my fingers sprang into action to investigate.

Stop the presses, everyone, the story was about a new video game called Truck Driver due to be released in September. The game is produced by a Dutch company called SOEDESCO. Personally, I haven’t played a video game since the last time I ran out of quarters at the 7-Eleven. That was 1986, as I recall, so I couldn’t tell you if SOEDESCO is a major player in the game design world, but the press release and preview video for the game had apparently set the gaming world agog.

Apparently, this new game is going to put all previous truck driving video games to shame. “Really?” I thought. “There’ve been others?” I checked. Yes, there have — several, in fact. But this one promises to be the most realistic trucking experience available.

According to the official literature, some of the most exciting aspects of Truck Driver is you get to (and this is word for word): “Enjoy a trucking experience focused on your career as a truck driver, build stronger relationships with the local community with each job, customize your truck with tons of parts and tune it to your liking, explore a vast open world and watch it progress with you, navigate through beautiful landscapes and fully explorable cities.”

All without leaving mom’s basement.

I watched the preview video and read the literature. The premise of the game is that you’ve inherited a truck from your uncle, and the game is to become a successful independent owner-operator. You have to “interact” with fictional “customers,” building “relationships” by successfully hauling loads. The game features fun-filled challenges like backing up, hitching a trailer and pulling up to a fuel pump, and then traversing artificial highways and byways without crashing into stuff.

The first thing you do is pick your avatar. You can be male or female, white or black. All the choices are young, good-looking and incredibly fit, you know, just like real truck drivers.

I started to wonder if the game’s realism might be overstated. I had some questions the promotional video didn’t address. Does the game include being stuck at a shipper for hours on end? Do the challenges include finding parking for the night? How many braindead four-wheelers do you have to share the simulated road with?

Given the addictive tendencies of some of these gamers, is there a penalty for HOS violations?

On one of the websites that was sharing this major announcement, someone commented they looked forward to playing this game, right after they get done with “Hanging Sheetrock” and “Ditch Digging.” My reaction had been similar. Granted, as I said, when I left video games behind, they consisted of shooting space bugs, apes who threw things at you and round things trying to eat other round things. I know video games have gotten much more sophisticated and diverse and immersive.

Still, when I think of interactive fantasy play, hauling logs is never the fantasy.

I wasn’t sure how real truck drivers would react to this game. Would they find it ridiculous, maybe even insulting that their profession has been packaged into an oversimplified, sanitized game? Or that some of these passive dolts will think they now know all about trucking because they reached Level 4, or whatever?

If they really want to know what being a truck driver is like, hey, there are plenty of jobs available. They can pry their butts out of the La-Z-Boy and come find out.

Then again, it’s kind of flattering. Truckers often complain how disrespected they are, how people look down on them. The mere existence of a game like this shows that on some level, the opposite is true. Now, as always, the truck driver holds a certain mystique to outsiders. People are fascinated and intimidated at how you handle those enormous vehicles. You represent the romance of the open road. You’re mysterious in a cool way, kind of like a cowboy.

OK, maybe the game doesn’t show what it’s really like to be a truck driver. Maybe that isn’t the point. It’s about fantasy.

I looked to see if I could find any “pretend you’re a journalist” video games out there. Not a one.

If there is, I doubt I’d recommend it

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