Tri-Cities show strong Jan. job gains; Kingsport-Bristol above pre-recession level

The Tri-Cities began 2016 with a big year-to-year increase in nonfarm jobs. The local recovery also remained uneven. Kingsport-Bristol MSA has more jobs than before the recession while the Johnson City MSA is still thousands below the benchmark.


January year-over-year gain in nonfarm jobs.

Data for the results was delayed by the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s annual readjustment of the numbers, so March is the release target for January and February’s numbers.

Preliminary, non-adjusted counts show there were about 4,300 more nonfarm jobs in January than there were January 2015. That’s the biggest year-to-year gain since the latter months of 2012.

Let’s pause here for some context.

The Tri-Cities entered the Great Recession later than the rest of the nation. When the national economy was plunging in 2007 and employers were shedding jobs by the thousands the local economy was good, and there were ample jobs. That resulted in a wave of folks coming home to weather the bad times with family and friends, but that’s another story.

The recession hit the local economy in 2009, but it came out of it faster than the nation. There were months in late 2010 and 2011 when the local year-to-year nonfarm job growth rate was double the national rate. But that changed in 2012. Job growth dropped to less than a percentage point a month on the year-to-year metric then went negative in the summer. For a year local employers cut jobs while the national job recovery was slowly adding jobs. Local job losses reversed in the summer of 2013 and employers slowly began replenishing the ranks.

At the same time, employment was still declining. It was a major local example that the monthly employment reports and the household data that monitored them is flawed on the local level. ETSU Economist and research associate at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research Steb Hipple once said the monthly unemployment report was the most useless piece of data collected by the U.S government. He said in one radio interview that you cannot have two reports supposedly measuring the same thing showing opposite results.

Hipple advised local labor market watches that the payroll report was a much more accurate reflection of the local labor market. That advice hasn’t caught on, yet.

That brings us back to January’s Tri-Cities nonfarm job numbers. When you compared it to the January 2008 pre-recession benchmark there’s a deficit of about 2,300 jobs. So, although 2015 was a good year and 2016 made a strong job growth state we’re still a ways off from the pre-recession level.

A drill down to the MSA level shows the Johnson City MSA saw January’s job total up about 900 from the 2015 total. That’s a pretty strong growth number for a three-county area that has seen the monthly year-to-year job growth over 1% since July. The Johnson City metro area suffered most during the local Great Recession double-dip and still hasn’t reached the recovery level of the rest of the region. January’s improvement is still l about 2,400 jobs shy of the pre-recession benchmark.

Kingsport-Bristol didn’t suffer the volume of job losses during the double dip and began its recovery earlier than the Johnson City MSA. It moved into a position of having more nonfarm jobs than the year before during the third quarter of last year. The January total was about 3,400 more jobs than there were in January 2015 and 100 more than the pre-recession benchmark.

While the unemployment report deserves less reliance as a good labor market indicator than the jobs report it’s still a component that is part of the overall consideration.

But, since there are two months of data coming down this month, I’ll just hit the January unemployment rates in this report and save the employment and labor market drill down for the February report.

Tri-Cities  – 5.2%, down 0.2%.

Johnson City MSA – 5.4%, down 0.4%.

Kingsport-Bristol MSA – 5.1%, down 0.1%.

Bristol TN – 5%, down 0.5%.

Johnson City – 4.8%, down 0.4%.

Kingsport – 5.2, down 0.3%.



  1. […] Tri-Cities show strong Jan. job gains; Kingsport-Bristol above pre-recession level […]

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