The Census Bureau provides a family portrait for trucking and its owners taken with a “digital camera” called the economic census. This census actually covered the year 1997, but many of the “pictures” taken are just now being developed in the form of Census publications and web site postings (www.census.gov).

One Census table shows that there were over 92,000 companies with employees in trucking. These businesses generated revenue of $141 billion. Employment (measured in March) totaled 1.3 million. Thus, the average employer business had 14 employees and revenues of $1.5 million, or $110,000 per employee.

Another table shows businesses with employees far outnumbered by those without employees — owner-operators. The Census Bureau estimates there were 323,000 nonemployer firms in trucking, with total receipts of $21 billion, or $65,000 each.

The snapshot also shows how many trucking businesses are small, seasonal and short-lived. Just 3,000 of the 92,000 employer firms had multiple locations or establishments. Over one-fifth of the establishments did not operate for the entire year. Of those that did, more than half had fewer than five employees (although the establishment could have been part of a larger, multi-unit firm). The top fifty firms accounted for only about one-quarter of industry revenues and employment, a far lower concentration ratio than other modes of transport.

Another set of pictures, the 1997 Surveys of Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, shows something about who owned trucking and warehousing firms that year. Of the 97,000 employer businesses (including 4,300 in warehousing), women were majority owners of 14,500 and were equal owners with men of another 30,000. Men were the majority owners of 52,000. Hispanics were majority owners of 7,500 firms. Blacks owned the majority of just 3,600 firms.

In addition, of the 326,000 businesses in the two industries without employees — partnerships and sole proprietorships — women owned 43,000; men and women jointly owned 89,000; and men were primary owners of 194,000. Hispanics owned 47,000; blacks 34,000.

In terms of average size, women-owned employer firms averaged 10 employees and receipts of $1 million, an average of just over $100,000 per employee. These figures are not a great deal smaller than the overall average. But black-owned employer firms averaged just four employees and $540,000 in revenue, while Hispanic-owned employer firms had about five employees and $360,000 in revenue on average.

Among firms without employees, women-owned firms averaged $33,000 in receipts, Hispanics about $44,000, and blacks about $57,000. The women-and-men partnerships averaged $73,000, more than the average for all nonemployer firms. Most firms without employees are trucking owner-operators, so it makes sense that partners would have a much higher average than the overall figure, which comprises mostly solo owners.

The bottom line: The 1997 economic census is a digital look at the rearview mirror. If you see an owner-operator, the mirror shows that owner is more likely than you expected to be a woman and/or Hispanic. Women alone or with a male partner accounted for 40% of the total, and Hispanics close to 15%, higher than their share of the nation's work force. Blacks account for about 10% of the nonemployer firms, close to their share of the overall work force. But while men owned the majority of 54% of the firms, women owned the majority of 15%, Hispanics 8% and blacks just 4%. Thus, women and minorities are viable sources of owner-operators but are not “graduating” in great numbers to being employers.