March non-farm jobs increase; trend looks better; Tri-Cities still in a hole

NF jobsThe Tri-Cities jobs picture looked a little better in March. Employers added 1,900 jobs from February’s total. But don’t break out the champagne just yet. When you step back and take a look it’s clear the Tri-Cities job market is still in a hole.

We would have needed 7,900 more jobs than reported in last month’s BLS payroll survey to have the same number of jobs the Tri-Cities had in March, 2008. The year before the recession hit here. March’s numbers are preliminary and not seasonally adjusted.  They will change a little when the April numbers come out.

The chart with this report illustrates the non-farm jobs picture from a year-to-year quarterly basis. Using quarters helps take the EKG factor out of the chart.

The jobs black hole and the Tri’s double dip  

Basically the Tri-Cities labor market entered the Great Recession late and came out of it earlier than the nation. That ended late in 2012 when the region began its jobs double dip.

Using the first quarter of 2008 as a pre-recession benchmark, employers shed about 13,000 non-farm jobs before it bottomed out. The Tri-Cities got back a little over 8,000 of those jobs before the double dip began. Between the start of the dip and Q1 this year, employers have given back over 5,000 of the jobs gained in the original recovery. Between Q1 2008 and Q1 2013 the non-farm jobs total shows a drop of a little over 9,000 non-farm jobs.

Wait – there is a silver lining – of sorts

The silver lining to this picture is the trend line is improving.  Kingsport-Bristol began pulling out early last year, but that component of the Tri-Cities labor market couldn’t make up for the losses in the Johnson City MSA.

When you compared Q1 this year to Q1 last year the jobs loss for the Tri was 0.2%.

The four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA had a 0.3% gain and the three-county Johnson City MSA posted a 0.1% gain.

Kingsport-Bristol has been positive for the last five quarters while Q1 was the first positive number of Johnson City since Q2 2012.

There’s a difference between the jobs and unemployment reports

The U3 employment/employment – or household survey – report will be out late next week. While it and the payroll report are about both about jobs they are not from the same data.

The payroll report is a survey of employers and the data set is considerably larger.

The household survey focuses on how many people have jobs, are looking for a job and counted as unemployed. People who have dropped out of the labor force, agricultural workers and some self-employed people are not included in the payroll survey. The U3 report also counts part-time employees as employed – even if they only work a couple of hours a week. There’s a better report – the U6 – but it’s not available on the local level.

Bottom line is the household survey and U3 report doesn’t provide an inclusive look at the labor market. However, it provides a look at the total number of people in the labor force.

 Private sector jobs happy talk

There’s lots of media chatter about the number of private sector employees being back to pre-recession levels. Unfortunately that’s hasn’t trickled down to the Tri-Cities.

Employers have been adding private sector jobs but  March’s tally in the Tri was about 7,000 less than the pre-recession benchmark of 2008.

On the month-over-month metric Kingsport-Bristol added 1,200 private sector workers in March and the Johnson City MSA count was up 400 from February.  Like non-farm hiring in the private sector is increasing in the Tri but it has a way to goes before getting back to pre-recession levels.

© Don Fenley






  1. […] NETAR’s President, Louie Leach, expects continued growth at a moderated pace as the market enters its prime season. Some of the activity will come from weather delayed shopping. Another positive is job creation is slowly beginning to increase. […]

  2. […] March non-farm jobs increase; trend looks better; Tri-Cities still in a hole  […]

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