Tri-Cities employment decline continues in February

y-y%PPTri-Cities employment continued trending lower in February.

Unadjusted preliminary data from the household survey show 5,030 fewer people with jobs last month than there were the same month last year.  That’s a 2.2% decline, and the 20th straight loss on that metric.  February’s unemployment rate increased to 7%, down 0.3% from January.

The labor market picture for the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA was slightly better than the region. But there were 1,586 fewer people employed than during February last year, and the unemployment rate increased to 6.9%. Where the picture is better is the year-to-year rate of decline slowed.  February was the second month for a rate decline. It was also enough for a short-term flattening of the regional rate trend.

Johnson City’s  three-county MSA area wasn’t as lucky.

February’s year-over-year employment was down 3,444 people – a decline of 3.8%. The unemployment rate increased to 7.1%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll survey should be available early next week. That report offers a larger, richer look at the labor market because its focus is people who draw paychecks. However, it does not include many of the self-employed and agricultural workers included in the household survey.

Job losses at the end of last year had the dubious distinction to be the worst since 2009 in ETSU economist Steb Hipple’s Q4 labor market analysis. “It was the largest decline on a year-over-year basis since the recession.”


In his analysis Dr. Hipple wrote, “The annual data for 2013 reflect the growing weakness in the labor market. The disparity between large job losses and smaller unemployment changes is reflected in the drop in the labor force numbers.”


“In the region, employment has been falling for seven quarters, and the job losses in the fourth quarter were twice that of preceding quarters.  Unemployment levels are starting to climb and the overall labor force is contracting as discouraged workers end their fruitless job searches.


“Based on the fourth quarter performance, the economic outlook for the new year has become more uncertain.  The national economy, even if it returns to the slow growth path of the past two years, will still not be able to create jobs at a meaningful level.  Millions of workers will remain outside of the labor force and suffer the consequences of long-term unemployment.  The Tri-Cities economy has been looking to growth in the U.S. economy to improve regional business activity.  This might be a long wait,” he added.


tri 3 moLooking at three-month moving averages of preliminary data for the region shows the rate of loss is decreasing, but it’s not enough to turn the trend. Preliminary numbers from the household survey are almost always revised the following month, but those revisions are not usually large enough to make a short-term change in the trend line.

The current down trend began in April 2012. Since then the Tri-Cities has given back many of the jobs gained during a strong recovery from the 2009 recession

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 6.9% –  three-tenths of 1% point lower than the January revised rate. The national unemployment rate was 6.7%, up one-tenth of 1 percentage point from February.

The Tri-Cities jobless rate increased 0.3%.

Those are the U3 rates, commonly accepted as the official unemployment rate. However, the U3 rate is far from a good indicator of the overall labor market conditions.

The U6 rate is a more inclusive picture of the employment situation. It’s reported monthly on the national level only. The U6 rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (the more familiar U-3 rate), but also counts “marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons.” Some part-time workers counted as employed by U-3 could be working as little as an hour a week. Marginally attached workers include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work. The age considered for this calculation is 16 years and over.

January’s U6 rate was 12.7%. In February it was 12.6%.





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