Trucking Gives Reason For Economic Optimism

One little-noticed measure of economic growth is the Truck Tonnage Index. The latest reading shows that trucks are carrying more goods, and that suggests the economy is doing well enough to avoid a recession.

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Optimism that the economy would stay out of recession and keep trucking along may not have come as a surprise to economists who keep an eye on one interesting indicator that rolled out this week. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: When analysts try to figure out where the economy's headed, one thing they look at is actually the trucking industry - specifically, how much stuff trucks are hauling around the country every month. It's called the Truck Tonnage Index, and it turns out it's a pretty good economic indicator.

BOB COSTELLO: It is. You know, trucking is, by far, the largest mode of freight transport in the U.S.

ARNOLD: That's Bob Costello. He's the chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

COSTELLO: Everything throughout the supply chain, from raw materials all the way to finished goods to the stores and hospitals and schools and everything, most of that gets delivered by truck. So as a result, we are a good reflection of the broader economy.

ARNOLD: And Costello says those trucks out on American highways are hauling around more products and supplies.

COSTELLO: And in September, specifically, we saw a nice increase over August levels, and almost a 6 percent gain from a year earlier. But I think the most important thing is what we're not seeing, and what we're not seeing is a plunge, which would suggest a recession.

ARNOLD: Costello says trucking is one of the first places you can spot a recession. Companies pull back, less stuff gets shipped. But, instead, right now the loading docks are busier, more trucks are rolling, and it looks like the economy is at least slowly continuing to recover. Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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