The state of family incomes in Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol, TN 2007 v. 2012

3 Kingsport family income gainBy DON FENLEY

Amid all the data and jawboning about an anemic jobs recovery and even weaker wage growth don’t overlook the core make up of family incomes and how they are changing in the Tri-Cities.

The region – like the nation – is moving toward a new economic norm where the drivers of more emphasis on service jobs, full-time-part-time workers, contract work and high-tech manufacturing – to name just a few – are changing the fabric of the regional and local economies. Employment in the area’s largest cities is lower that it was before the recession, with the exception of Kingsport. Unemployment rates are higher and there has been a decline in the labor force. Private sector wages in the Kingsport-Bristol MSA are fared better than in the Johnson MSA.

Kingsport family incomThis study doesn’t dwell on those areas. It looks at two areas of family incomes

The first comparison is the gain or loss each of the Census Bureau’s 16 income categories made using the 2007 and 2012 American Community Surveys. Each year’s table cite inflation-adjusted dollars and is for income in the past 12 months.

The second comparison looks at the proportion each income category commands in the city’s economic make up.

The Department of Commerce’s definition of middle-class income is $50,000 to $120,000 for a family of four. But middle-class means different things to different people. One of the better explanations I’ve recently heard is, “Middle 2 Johnson City family income gainclass is having what you need and some of what you want.”


Eight income categories grew in 2012 when compared to 2007, seven declined and one had no change.

All but one of the four groups classified as middle-income income grew when compared to 2007. And Kingsport is the only city where families earning middle-income wages were the top four income groups.

The Census Bureau doesn’t break out a top 1% of family incomes. Its top wage category of $200,000 a year and Johnson City family incomemore accounts for 3.9% of the family incomes in Kingsport.

Kingsport’s largest family income group is $75,000 to $99,999 a year at 12.8%. In the No. 2 spot is those earning $60,000 to $74,999 – 11.6%.

Nine of Johnson City’s family income categories were higher than they were in 2007 while six declines. The top growth category was families making $200,000 and more a year, up 3%. Next were those with an income of $100,000 to $124,999, 1 Bristol family income gainup 2.3%.

Johnson City families with middle-class incomes didn’t fare as well as they did in Kingsport. Only half of the four middle-income groups saw income increase from 2007 levels.

Three middle-income family incomes were in the three top spots in the proportional study.

The largest group was those with incomes of $75,000 to $99,999. 11.1% of the total and $100,000 to $124,999, 10.3% of the total.

Families with the highest incomes – $200,000 or more – comprised 8%.
Bristol family incomBRISTOL

Seven income ranges saw increases in Bristol and unlike Kingsport and Johnson City the group that grew the most were not in the middle-class or above group. Families with an income of $15,000 to $19,999 increased 4.7% from the 2007 total.

In the middle-class comparison only one income range showed a gains when compared to 2007. That group was the families with income of $100,000 to $124,999, up 1%.

Bristol had the highest proportion of family incomes in the $200,000 or above category in the Tri-Cities – 9.8%. But the category declined 0.5% from the 2007 level.

Families with an income of $30,000 to $34,999 were the largest group in Bristol, 11.9% of the total followed by the highest income group.

Families in the middle-class income rage were in the bottom half of the 16 income categories.

©Don Fenley


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