March private sector wages improve most in Kingsport-Bristol, Johnson City MSA at bottom of state rankings


Employment increased across the Tri-Cities in March but the average private sector wage didn’t follow suit in all areas. That’s an illustration of restructuring of the local labor force since the Great Recession and the regional’s underemployment woes.

KB MarKingsport-Bristol private sector workers saw their average wage increase by 3.9% from February. The year-to-year trend shows wage averages in that four-county MSA were 4.7% better than March last year. It was the eighth straight monthly increase on the year-to-year metric.

Private sector workers in the Johnson City MSA saw a second straight increase on the month-to-month metric but the year-to-year trend continues to be in negative territory. There has not been a year-to-year increase in that three-county MSA since April 2012.

JC MarOn a broader perspective the Johnson City MSA was at the bottom of state rankings for average private sector wages again in March.

Historically Kingsport-Bristol and Johnson City are ranked next to each other in the state comparison, but lately Johnson City’s position has gone to the bottom while Kingsport-Bristol has increased. In March Kingsport-Bristol ranked 8th in Tennessee right behind the Morristown MSA. NE Tennessee’s wage leader remains the Knoxville MSA, which has the second highest average private sector average wage in the state, right behind Nashville.

When   private sector average wage for last month are adjusted for inflation to a pre-recession benchmark of March 2008 Kingsport-Bristol workers had an average of $18 a month more buying power. Johnson City MSA workers have $64 a week less buying power.

Although the average private sector wage is one of the only monthly measures of wages on the local level there’s several caveat that should be considered:

  • It does not include the wages of government workers. Government is the largest employer in the Johnson City MSA and the third largest in Kingsport-Bristol. On a regional scale, government was the single largest job source in the March Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll survey. Education and Health Services was second.
  • Most of higher wages and increases in the private sector go to those at the higher end of that sector while the bulk of job growth has been in the lower-paying service sector. The increase of part-time workers also tends to bring down the private sector’s wage average.

March data for these comparisons are preliminary, so some adjustments are likely when April’s reports are issued. The BLS data is not seasonally adjusted.


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