Tri-Cities employment grows in March – Kingsport better than pre-recession level

1 Tri-Cities 3 month

The three-month moving average uses current non seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics data to help show the employment trend sans big month-over-month swings. Data for the most current two months is preliminary and will be revised in April’s employment report.

March saw a solid employment gain in the Tri-Cities when compared to February, and the unemployment rate dropped. It was the second straight month employment increased over the previous month. That’s good news – not the whole story.

March’s household survey, which tracks employment, mirrored the payroll survey trend discussed here late last week.

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

The household survey numbers used for this report – like last week’s payroll survey – are not seasonally adjusted. The most recent are also preliminary. Revisions are routine when next month’s survey reports are issued.

Employment, job gains haven turned trend

Take solace in the fact that non-farm job creation and employment are picking up. But the gains are only strong enough to slow the region’s rate of decline on the year-to-year comparisons. Another quarter or so of job creation would do the trick, but a couple of months are not enough to show a trend. The bottom line is we’re still in negative territory when compared to last year. And we’re even further from our pre-recession numbers. The only exception to that is the city of Kingsport.

Year-over-year comparison shows a Tri-Cities employment deficit of 1,202 from March last year. And when this year’s Q1 total is compared to Q1 last year it shows employment declined by 0.7%. Down, but a big improvement from Q4 when the losses were the worst since 2009.

Recession and double-dip footprints

JC 3 mo trendTri-Cities employment trend has been negative for 24 straight months when compared to the same months of the previous year. The three-month moving trend chart takes some of the EKG factor out of the picture but it tells the story well.  We went into recession in early 2009 and made a pretty strong recovery into late 2012. That’s when the jobs/employment double dip began. When March is compared to a pre-recession benchmark of March 2008 there are 11,131 fewer people employed.

Kingsport-Bristol and Johnson City drill down

Breaking down March’s report into the Tri’s MSA components shows a continuation of a trend line where the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA employment situation is performing much better than the three-county Johnson City MSA.

When compared with February’s numbers, there were a little over 1,600 more people with jobs in Kingsport-Bristol. The year-over-year comparison shows 131 fewer jobs.

Johnson City MSA employment was 995 better than in February. But March’s total is 1,130 less than March last year.

Employment v. jobs report

The household survey that this report focuses on is not the same thing as last week’s payroll report. Both are about jobs, but they are not from the same data and they focus of different things.

The payroll report is a survey of employers and the data set is considerably larger. What it misses is agricultural jobs and many of the self-employed and entrepreneurial folks. This is becoming an increasingly bigger economic factor that is off the household and job monthly surveys.

KB 3 month movingThe household survey focuses on how many people have jobs, are looking for a job and counted as unemployed. It’s also a much smaller sample than the payroll survey so the margin of error is higher. But it’s the basis for the U3 report – the staple for looking at and reporting unemployment.  It provides a look at the labor force and employment but it ignores many potential workers and generalized the status of others. For instance, it counts part-time employees as employed – even if they only work a couple of hours a week. And it ignores those who are involuntary part-time workers. By itself the U3 report offers a lousy picture of the jobs and employment landscape. There’s a better report – the U6 – but it’s not available on the local level.

Where March jobs were added

Month-over-month job creation was pretty good across sectors last month.  The strongest growth came in construction and the leisure and hospitality sector. The only losses came in retail trade and those were only in the Johnson City MSA. MTSU’s employment heat chats are a good way to tract jobs on a year-over-year annual growth rate.

Johnson City employment growth by industry (year-over-year %) 

Kingsport-Bristol MSA employment growth by industry (year-over-year %)

Here’s how last month unemployment rates compare.

Tri-Cities – 6.6%, down 0.3%

Kingsport-Bristol – 6.6%, down 0.3%

Johnson City MSA – 6.7%, down 0.3%

qtrsThe city unemployment rates were:

Bristol – 6.8%, down 0.2%

Johnson City – 6.2%, unchanged from February.

Kingsport – 7.3%, unchanged from February.

Employment in the cities

Employment in Bristol was 129 higher than February, down 166 people from March last year and down 289 from March 2008.

Employment in Johnson City was 111 people higher than it was in February.  Last month was down 585 people when compared to March last year, and it’s down 1,563 from the pre-recession benchmark.

Kingsport’s employment exception

Kingsport is the only city where the employment level is above pre-recession levels.

Last month’s employment was 243 better than February, but 241 less than March last year. When compared to March 2008 employment is 1,726 higher. Kingsport’ employment loss is from the recession recovery before the losses of the last 24 months. It hit a high point in June 2012 and has declined since thing. The June 2008 to June 2012 employment number shows how strong the initial recovery from the recession was. Kingsport’s employment increased by 2,222 before the second dip began. Compared to that high point March’s employment is down by 637 people.

3 Kpt 3 month movingWhile the U3 report shows Kingsport employment above the pre-recession level it doesn’t tell us anything about job creation on the city level. Conventional wisdom holds that many of them were part-time and lower-paying sector jobs. But there has been growth of better-paying jobs, too. Unfortunately almost all of this is off the radar of the public employment and job creation monthly reports.




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