Tri-Cities labor market improves in April, weakness still evident



Two key labor reports show the April jobs picture in the Tri-Cities improved – but still can’t be seen as  healthy.

yoY% ch employmentEmployers added non-farm jobs for the fourth straight month following 18 straight months of year-over-year losses. And more people were employed in April than during April last year. It’s the first time the year-over-year employment number has been positive for 25 months. The unemployment rate dropped to 73-month low – 5.6 percent.

Employment is above the negative line in Kingsport-Bristol and the Tri-Cities, but the Johnson City MSA hasn’t gotten there, yet. A similar trend can be seen in the comparison of non-farm jobs. Declines may be bottoming out, but it’s too early to call March and April a trend.

That’s where to good news ends.

So what if the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since April 2008? A comparison between that  month and last month shows the number of people employed has declined by 12,017 (-5.1%) and there are 10,366 fewer people (-4.2%) in the labor force. Here’s how ETSU economist Steb Hipple sums is up in his current labor market analysis. “Employment has now declined for the past eight quarters and increasing numbers of jobless workers are withdrawing from the regional labor force. Under these conditions a falling unemployment is a sign of labor market weakness.” Hipple analysis focuses on quarterly numbers so it doesn’t include April which sheds a slightly better light on the jobs/employment issue.

April’s labor market report comes from two surveys: the payroll survey and household survey. The payroll survey is the largest  and focuses on the number of jobs, hours worked and wages in a regional labor sectors. The household survey focuses on the number of people who have a job and those looking for a job. Those two factors are the labor force. Divide the number of people looking for a job by the labor force and you have the unemployment rate.   Numbers in neither data set used in this report were seasonally adjusted and are preliminary. It’s routine for adjustments to be made in the following month’s report after better data is collected.

The unemployment rate is increasingly being criticized because it doesn’t present a very good metric to judge the health of the labor market. For one thing, it includes people who work as little as 2 hours a week as employed. It makes no distinction between part-time and full-time employees or those who are working part-time but would like a full-time job.

YoY % ch nf jobsThe current labor market situation is actually a double dip that began in early 2012. Before then, the local job creation rate had outpaced the national rate during the recovery from the Great Recession. But in 2012 local employers began shedding jobs. So, the region was giving back the jobs it had gained during the initial recovery.

The chart tracking the percent gain and loss on a monthly year-over-year comparison shows non-farm job performance for the Tri-Cities and its two MSA components – the four-county Kingsport-Bristol and three-county Johnson City MSAs.

The yoy percent change employment chart tells basically the same story from a different perspective – the household survey measure of employment.

Another useful chart to get a handle on the local job picture is with the MTSU Bureau of Business and economic Research Center jobs heat charts. The charts measure the yoy % for total nonfarm jobs in 12 labor sectors. It’s the best way to see where jobs are being added and cut. Two sectors saw growth in April in Johnson City while only sector grew in Kingsport-Bristol.

Kingsport’s construction sector saw double-digit gains in April. But the all-important manufacturing sector was flat in April after a year’s worth of negative performance. Manufacturing is the largest jobs provider in Kingsport-Bristol. The second largest job provider (Education and Health Services) showed a decrease for the ninth straight month in April.

Johnson City’s largest jobs provider (government ) has been negative over a year. Its second largest sector (Education and Health Services) has seen small gains in March and April.

You can find the Kingsport-Bristol chart by CLICKING HERE, and the Johnson City MSA chart by CLICKING HERE.

The charts give a peek at the type jobs that are being created, but not in any detail. Good jobs are being created locally, so are jobs that are not-so-good.

Next week I’ll post an update on how  local private sector wages and employment in the three primary cities looked in april.

This report includes the revised benchmark data made in the household survey.  Revisions for 2009 – 2011 were small, but changes in 2012 and 2013 indicated larger employment losses than those included in earlier reports.

 © Don Fenley


  1. […] Tri-Cities labor market improves in April, weakness still evident […]

  2. […] April’s avg. private sector wage down in Tri-Cities – Tri-Cities labor market improves in April, weakness still evident  […]

  3. […] Tri-Cities labor market improves in April, weakness still evident.  […]

  4. […] Tri-Cities labor market improves in April, weakness still evident.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: