August Tri-Cities employment the lowest since 2002



August employment in the Tri-Cities was lower than it was at the bottom of the Great Recession.

TRI employ

Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey. The first series of red columns track employment levels during the Great Recession. The green columns benchmark recovery employment high points. The final set of red columns track the double-dip.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey 216,550 people were employed last month.  That’s a preliminary number that will see some revision on the September report.

MSA nonadjusted nonfarm jobs

Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly payroll survey.

The next lowest monthly employment number was 218,669 in January 2010 – the bottom of the Great Recession in the Tri-Cities.  You have to look back to January 2002 for lower employment – 215,900.

Monthly year-over-year tracking shows area employment has declined for 29 straight months. Optimism that the bottom to the Great Recession’s local double-dip began building with employment gains in March, April and May. The wheels fell off that in June.

Compared the July, last month’s employment was down 2,842 while the unemployment rate dropped to 7.4%. The unemployment rate dropped because the labor force declined more than employment.  When compared to an August 2008 pre-recession benchmark, employment last month was down 15,652 (7.1%). During the same period the labor force was down 5.9%. (14,590).



Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey. The red columns mark the employment high points after the recovery from the recession.

The second labor market report – the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll survey – shows nonfarm jobs were added in August. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the June-July losses.  The total is also slightly below what it was in August 2013.

Despite the August employment shocker, the jobs trend picture has been slowly improving. But nonfarm job creation stumbled in August.  Before then, both the Johnson City and Kingsport-MSAs were seeing a positive trend line as measured by the year-over-year percentage jobs change.  In August, Kingsport-Bristol dropped back into negative territory.
Neither the Great recession nor this double dip has treated city employment levels equally.


Kingsport is the only are city that has higher employment that it did before the recession. But it has seen employment losses since the post-recession high point in June 2012 when the double-dip began.

Employment in Kingsport declined for the third straight month in August.   The unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.7% since the month-to-month labor force decline was greater than the employment drop.


Johnson City employment was down by 430 from July and 746 lower than it was August last year. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.4%.  Compared to the pre-recession benchmark, employment was down by 2,278.  August’s employment was 728 lower than it was during at the bottom of the city’s Great Recession low point.


Employment in Bristol, TN was 204 lower than it was in July and 328 lower than it was August last year. The unemployment rate dropped to 7.7%.  Compared to its August 2008 pre-recession benchmark, employment was down by 615. In August employment was 543 lower than it was at the employment low point in Bristol during the Great Recession.

The region and its localities have been in the throes of a perfect labor market storm. The economy is creating jobs, but many of the new jobs are lower paying jobs. The number of part-time and contract jobs have also increased as robotics and technology have ravaged the traditional middle-class labor market.  And, the way the BLS counts employment for the U3 unemployment report includes people even if they work as little a couple of hours a week.  The U6 count that accounts for discouraged workers in part-time jobs who would rather be working full-time puts the August jobless rate at 12%. That’s the lowest it has been since 2008. The U6 report is not broken down below the national level on a monthly basis. Another element of the perfect storm is some workers have become discouraged and just dropped out of the labor force. The final part is an aging labor force where many of the older workers are ill-prepared for the higher paying jobs that are being creating.  Retraining and education efforts to chip away at this classic structural unemployment problem for both older and younger workers are underway but success is measured in years, not the short-term.

Job creation on the state and national level has been improving, but it hasn’t fully reached the Tri-Cities yet.

The labor market traditionally sees some improvement as the holiday season nears.  Some analysts are predicting much better conditions this year. Others contend that the economy’s hollowing out of the middle class will see consumer in a frugal mood.


Another examination of the local jobs picture can be seen with MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center’s labor market heat charts. The graphic tracking of the monthly year-over-year percentage change in the labor sectors show where jobs are growing and being lost on a 12-month trend line.

The Kingsport-Bristol  chart be found at

It shows that in August three of the 12 labor sectors saw growth.  But outside of mining, logging and construction the chart shows most sectors in flat to loss categories.

The Johnson City MSA chart can be found at

It shows that three-county area is seeing pretty good growth in four labor sectors.

©Don Fenley



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