Tri-Cities employment trends up, unemployment rates increase

Tri Cities employmentBy DON FENLEY

May’s good news is Tri-Cities employment increased for the fourth straight month. And the three-month moving trend looks encouraging. But both employment and job creation are still struggling to establish a foothold on what a new normal will look like in the local Great Restructuring economy.

Although May employment was up, the unemployment rate increased by 0.6% to 6.2%. It increased because every April-May employment gain was offset by almost four more people joining the labor force.  In the short-term that’s a signal that some of those who dropped out of the labor market are encouraged enough to begin looking again. The downside is the economy is not creating jobs fast enough and many of the jobs that are being created are in the lower-paid or part-time class.

The year-over-year trend shows there were 475 fewer people with jobs in May than May last year. When compared to a May 2008 pre-recession benchmark, employment is down by 9,765. Those are preliminary, non-seasonally adjusted numbers from the local May Bureau of Labor Statistics report. June’s national labor reports will begin showing up later this week. The June local reports aren’t due until the latter part of the month.

Kingsport May employmentMay’s household survey employment report joins the payroll survey as positive labor market news. The employment survey tracks the number of people who have jobs and looking for jobs by city. Unlike the payroll survey, it does not include where the jobs are located or which labor sector is adding or cutting jobs. The payroll survey is a larger sampling of the local labor market, but it does not include self-employed people, or those who have jobs in agriculture.


Tri-Cities employers add jobs in May 



Employment in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA bounced back from a small month-over-month April loss in May. While employment was up by 285 from April, the labor force grew by 1,262. The unemployment rate increased by 0.6% for 6.3%. Kingsport-Bristol’s employment trend line shows a gain of 131 jobs compared to May last year. When the pre-recession benchmark is factored in there are a little of 4,500 fewer people employed than during May 2008.

 JC May employmentJOHNSON CITY MSA

The three-county Johnson City MSA saw its fourth straight month-over-month employment gain in May.  The unemployment rate increased by 0.6% to 6.2% because of the larger number of people coming into the labor force. The year-to-year trend shows employment in the Johnson City MSA down by 606 from May last year. Compared to May 2008, the number of people employed was down by 5,217.


May employment in Kingsport increased, but the month-over-month pace is slowing from March’s double-digit increase. Last month’s total was 71 better than April.  The April-Mary labor force gain was 227. May’s unemployment rate was 6.6%, up 0.6% from April.  A year-over-year comparison shows Kingsport employment 130 below May last year. On that metric, employment has declined for 18 Bristol May employmentmonths.  Compared to May 2008, Kingsport is the only local city that shows more employment than before the recession. Employment in the Model City was up 1,833 people in May when compared to the pre-recession benchmark, and the labor force was up by 2,062 people


Month-over-month employment gains continued in Johnson City for the fourth straight month in May. The labor force movement has been more erratic.  It increased by 441 people in May while employment was up by 82. The unemployment rate was 6.4%, up 1.1% from April.  On the year-to-year metric, employment was down for the 24th straight month. The good news is while the year-to-year totals are negative the trend line is showing improvement. But four data points on a three-month moving average is still not enough cause to break out the champagne.   The region’s economy and labor market still haven’t show a solid idea of what this economy’s new normal will be. Employment is down 1,276 compared to May 2008 and the labor force has dropped by 1,160 people.


Employment in Bristol was up by 42 people, and the labor force increased by 167. The unemployment rate increased by 0.8% from April to 6.4%. Like Johnson City, Bristol has seen year-over-year employment decline for 28 straight months. In May it was 79 below the same month last year.  Compared to the May 2008 pre-recession benchmark, employment is down by 224 people and the labor force has increased by seven. Bristol’s three-month moving average trend has not yet developed a consistent movement. May’s employment gain was the third straight monthly increase.

©Don Fenley







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