Transportation Wages Better in Memphis, Study Finds

By Eric Smith

Memphis boasts a much larger proportion of employees in the trade, transportation and utilities industries than the overall U.S., and the city's transportation workers earn wages that are equal to or slightly higher than their national counterparts, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"A Look at Wages in Transportation-Related Occupations in the Memphis Area and in the United States" was released Feb. 25 by BLS economist Eli Stoltzfus.

It states that in 2006, 32 percent of all workers in the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area were employed in the trade, transportation and utilities industries, compared to 23 percent of all U.S. workers. The Memphis MSA is Shelby, Fayette and Tipton counties in Tennessee; Crittenden County in Arkansas; and DeSoto County in Mississippi.

In February 2007, 14 percent of private industry workers in the Memphis metro area were employed in transportation and material moving occupations, compared to 9 percent nationally.

Does the higher percentage of transportation workers equal higher wages? In many cases, the answer is yes.

Memphians overall earn less than the rest of the U.S.: The average hourly earning for all occupations here is $17.76 per hour, compared to $18.56 in the U.S. But transportation and material moving workers in Memphis earn $14.23 per hour compared to $14.22 in the U.S.

While the rate for Memphis' entry level workers in this category was lower than the national average, the wages for higher
levels of employment - those that
require higher skill levels and special certifications - were significantly greater, the report stated.

Transportation and material moving workers at Level 5, the highest level of employment for this study, made $20.54 per hour in the Memphis area compared to $18.08 in the U.S.

The disparity between local and national wages for truck drivers was nearly as large. The hourly rate for truck drivers in the Memphis area was $17.20, compared to $15.69 in the U.S. as a whole.

The numbers didn't surprise Dr. John Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research/Center for Manpower Studies and a professor
of economics at the University of Memphis.

He said it's important to consider the impact of national markets versus local markets when looking at a wide-reaching, dynamic industry such as transportation.

"Many of the wages in Memphis are set locally and are low relative to comparison with other cities," he said. "The workers in the transportation sector are more likely to be impacted by broader conditions in the markets.
Those include unions, a highly competitive market, broad knowledge of wages among workers and national transportation companies. All of these factors make more standard wages and fringe benefits likely in this industry."

The full BLS report can be found at www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/cm20080220ar01p1.htm.