Tri-Cities job market continues clawing itself out of a hole


YOY unadjusted nfThe Tri-Cities continued clawing its way out of a two-year jobs and employment decline in July, but you have to look hard at the numbers to see it.

Job creation in the Tri-Cities was down in July, so was employment.

The bright spot was the year-over-year percent change trend continued inching higher with the Johnson City MSA improving slightly better than Kingsport-Bristol.  Charting the year-over-year  nonfarm jobs change shows the decline bottoming  in the early spring of 2013 and began slowly recovering. Both MSAs have been above the zero percent line since May.

An assessment of the local labor market slack is rarely simple, but it has been especially challenging in the aftermath of the Great Recession and both the labor market and demographic trends driving the recovery.

The jobs report that gets most media attention is the national adjusted month-to-month measure. It shows July was the sixth straight month the national economy added more than 200,000 jobs. But that has little effect on the local economy other than building confidence for those who only pay attention to the national reports.  The local context is the Tri-Cities labor market’s performance is not syncing with national growth. If – as many say – the local economy lags by two quarter 2015 will be a much better year. Until then there are many locals asking, “when will the economy look better.”

Locally the Johnson City MAS has shed job for two months. Kingsport-Bristol’s summer slump was flat after June’s decline.

MSA Employment

Year-over-year percent change.

The unadjusted preliminary numbers show  nonfarm job totals down in both MSA on the month-to-month metric but that improves when July is compared to July last year. That figure is preliminary and is almost always adjusted the following month, but it showed about 700 more Tri-Cities jobs over July last year.

Employment slumped by almost 1,500 from June across the Tri-Cities in the BLS’s household survey. The unemployment rate increased to 7.5%, almost a half-point higher than June. When compared to July last year employment was down by a little over 3,000.

Employment and jobs totals are not the same because the two reports measure separate groups. The payroll report is the larger – and most accurate – survey and focuses on the number of jobs by the 12 labor sectors. The employment survey focuses on who has a job and who’s looking for a job. While the payroll survey is the most accurate it does not include many self-employed people, part-timers and contract workers.

Compared to a July 2008 pre-recession benchmark, Tri-Cities employment was down 14,000 in July. The labor force was almost 11,600 fewer than before the recession. Some of that labor force decline is clearly related to the aging of the Baby Boom generation. That pace accelerated with the recession and will continue for more than a  decade. The other factor was the growing number of part-time or contract employees. And then, there are the workers who have become discouraged and dropped out of the labor market.

Labor ForceUnderemployment has also been a factor in the Tri-Cities – especially in the Kingsport-Bristol MSA where the transition from the manufacturing base to a service economy has resulted in innovative pushes for training and retraining.  The number of jobs advertised for workers with scientific and technical degrees appears to be increasing.

Here’s a capsule look at July’s employment situation in the region’s major cities.


Employment was down compared to June and July last year. The unemployment rate was 7.8%, up 0.4% from June.

Bristol’s employment last month was down by 451 from its pre-recession benchmark.


Employment was down from June and July last year. The employment rate was 7.7%, up 0.4%.

When compared to the pre-recession benchmark, Johnson City employment was down by 1,891 last month


Fewer people were employed compared to both June and July last year. The unemployment rate was 7.7%, up 0.4%.

Kingsport is the only city where employment is higher than it was before the recession. Compared to July 2008, employment was up 1,467 last month in the Model City.

©Don Fenley





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