Tri-Cities job trend shows more service providing jobs; good producing sectors lagging

There’s a question that shows up each month after the current labor market reports are published. I ask, “Where are the jobs?”

The truth is the question is misdirected. The monthly payroll and household surveys are trailing indicators. And the data for the most current month is preliminary. It changes a little on the following two months reports.

What these two reports and the varying analysis of the data can tell you is what has happened and point to the longer trends.

One of the easiest ways to follow that annual trend in with the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations with MTSU Department of Economics and Finance’s heat charts.

Those charts are monthly year-to-year color-coded changes that map the ebb and flow of job cuts and additions by labor sectors.

The big picture for the Tri-Cities two MSA is the number of jobs is increasing. In fact, there were more non-farm jobs in December and November in the Tri-Cities than there were before the recession.

But that jobs growth, call it the Great Reconstruction following the Great Recession, has redistributed the type jobs. Technically much of it began years before the recession, but the transformation sped-up beginning in 2009.

The bottom line is the number of goods-producing jobs lag yesteryear’s levels while the service-providing sector jobs grow.

No, that doesn’t mean all the service providing jobs are in retail or at restaurants.

The way the Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at jobs the good producing sectors are manufacturing, construction and the natural resources and mining sector.

Everything else is service providing, and many of the highest-paid jobs are in that broad sector. For instance, the highest paying local profession is surgeons and technically they’re in the service providing sector.


The Kingsport-Bristol heat chart shows no December-December growth in the mining, logging, and construction sector. Ditto for manufacturing.

The strong growth was in retail trade, wholesale trade and transportation and utilities. Those sectors have been positive every month since May.

Other sectors also saw growth and there was only one sector in the red.

The information sector has been on a losing streak since May, following four flat months.

The Johnson City MSA shows a 4% gain in mining, logging and construction and a 5.4% bump in leisure and hospitality. The next strongest growth came in retail trade.

Johnson City had four sectors in the red on December’s update – three of those are showing year-to-year losses for two or more months.

The charts also show Kingsport-Bristol saw twice the growth in non-farm jobs on the year-to-year metric as the Johnson City MSA.

One weak area in the payroll report that is the source for these comparisons is it misses many self-employed people and those in the local gig economy.

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