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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

More than 20,000 workers in the railroad industry lost jobs this past year, even as the U.S. economy continued its streak of moderate growth, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Those numbers represent the biggest round of layoffs in the sector since the Great Recession — nearly a 10% drop in rail employment, per Labor Department data. Changes in the rail industry highlight signs of "ongoing pain" in the industrial sector, threatening middle-class jobs, the Post writes.

  • Some economists say American railways are enduring a "freight recession," with volumes dramatically dropping last year, notes the Post.

The state of play: President Trump's trade war has impacted U.S. agriculture and manufacturing, which in turn lowered demand for railroads to move products. The decline is also a result of the U.S. becoming less dependent on coal.

Yes, but: Railroad stocks soared after industry executives integrated automation and cost-cutting strategies to maintain profitability, "doubling down on the idea that rail's future entails longer, faster trains and fewer workers," per the Post.

  • Employment losses are expanding thanks to a technique called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which efficiently directs rail traffic.
  • Some on Wall Street view these shifts as a model for other industries during tough times. Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific stocks jumped 30% last year, according to the Post.

Worth noting: Rail industry leaders remain optimistic as Trump looks to finalize the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as well as a trade deal with China.

The bottom line: Freight declines have previously foreshadowed economic slumps "because they’re a barometer of how much stuff is heading to market," the Post writes.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
15 hours ago - Economy & Business

The unicorn stampede is coming

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Airbnb and DoorDash plan to go public in the next few weeks, capping off a very busy year for IPOs.

What's next: You ain't seen nothing yet.