Johnson City metro shows 2015 population gain; Kingsport-Bristol posts largest loss in state

Another year’s population change data from the Census Bureau shows the Tri-Cities lost 103 residents during the July 1, 2014 – July 1, 2015 estimate. And like last year the Johnson City metro area grew, just not enough to offset the losses in Kingsport-Bristol.

The report also shows Kingsport-Bristol had the highest estimated population loss among state metro areas. The only other loss came in Jackson.

Here’s how the population change looked for Tennessee’s metro areas:

Johnson City – up 500.

Kingsport-Bristol – down 603.

Morristown – up 968

Knoxville – up 4,357

Cleveland, up 1090

Chattanooga, up 3,579

Clarksville, up 3,127

Jackson, down 421

Memphis, up 1,213

Nashville, up 36,435


Tri-Cities sees another month of uneven job gains in both Kingsport-Bristol, Johnson City metro areas

The overall tri-Cities jobs picture improved in May, but that improvement is slow, doesn’t include all 12 sectors and is another example of the type growth that has so frustrated residents.

MTSU’s labor market heat charts are a quick way to get a handle on year-over-year job sector growth for the Tri’s two metro areas.

Johnson City 


What those charts show mirrors and expands on CoreData earlier post about job creation and a companion post about the progress of local private sector wages.

Johnson City metro job creation surge highlights Tri-Cities labor market report 

Johnson City metro, Kingsport-Bristol May wage increases higher than job creation rate 

The big takeaway is retail trade shows the largest year-over-year growth in both metro areas.

In the Johnson City metro, year-over-year retail jobs were up 4.9%. In Kingsport-Bristol they were up 7.9%.

In rounded job numbers that means there were 1000 more people working retail in Johnson City and 800 more in Kingsport-Bristol than there were at the pre-recession peaks.

Granted this is jobs growth, but compare it to the most talked about and wished-for type jobs manufacturing.

Only Johnson City saw a growth in manufacturing jobs in May – up 4.2%. In Kingsport-Bristol it was down 2.3% and has declined for 11 months.

In actual jobs, there were 100 more Johnson City manufacturing jobs than May last year, but 800 fewer than the pre-recession high.

In Kingsport-Bristol’s May, there were 500 fewer manufacturing jobs and 4,500 fewer than the pre-recession high.

But the regional shift away from manufacturing hasn’t been just since the recession. Turning back the clock to 1990’s peak months, manufacturing jobs in Johnson City metro area are down 8,500. The same comparison for Kingsport-Bristol shows a loss of 14,400 jobs.

The erosion of almost  23,000 prized jobs that are typically better-paying and with benefits is a kick in the economy that hard to replace both in actual jobs and workers’ memories.

Make the same time-frame comparison with retail jobs and you see the region has added 5,700 retail jobs – 2,800 in Johnson City and 2,900 in Kingsport-Bristol.

But that doesn’t blot out the fact that job creation and wages are picking up.

A high point in May for both sectors was construction. In Johnson City, it was up for the third straight month. Kingsport-Bristol’s heat chart shows 11 straight gains. May was the weakest.

Kingsport-Bristol’s heaviest loss was in the information sector. It’s been in the double-digit red since February, and with the exception of one month flat for over a year.

The total count for the four counties in Kingsport-Bristol was six job sectors showing gains and the other six flat or showing declines.

Transportation and utilities were again the double-digit category loss in Johnson City. It’s been in the red since the first of the year and flat all year.

Like Kingsport-Bristol, the Johnson City metro area has six job categories in the growth column in May and the other six showing losses or no change.


Johnson City metro, Kingsport-Bristol May wage increases higher than job creation rate

May was another good month for Tri-Cities workers.  Year-over-year private sector wage rates for both metro areas were higher than the job creation rate, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Q4 numbers for total wages came in strong.

Johnson City metro job creation surge highlights Tri-Cities labor market report 

Johnson City metro private sector wages have outperformed Kingsport-Bristol every month this year in a strong reversal for the 35-month thumping they took beginning in the spring of 2012 through the spring of 2015.

pay v jobs


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the weekly Johnson City metro average in May was $631 a week. That’s 3.2% better than May last year. But Johnson City workers have a way to go before making up for the salary erosion. When May’s weekly average is adjusted for inflation against the May 2008 pre-recession benchmark, workers had $32 a week less buying power.

Kingsport-Bristol’s May weekly average was $652 a week, up 2.9% from last year. When adjusted for inflation workers had $17 a week more buying power.

During the period when Johnson City wages were getting hammered, Kingsport-Bristol was making slow gains. Over the months, Kingsport-Bristol’s average displaced the Johnson City metro as the Tri-Cities area with the highest private sector wage.

Neither local metro area moved its ranking among other state metro areas.

Johnson City had the lowest average weekly wage in the state while Kingsport-Bristol held down the fourth from the bottom position

Knoxville had the highest weekly average in the state at $884 a week, $4 a week better than the national average. Kingsport-Bristol also ranked behind other East Tennessee metro areas.

Just released Q4 2015 data for total wages from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages show improvement across the board:

Here’s how those preliminary averages stack up for the jurisdictions in the two Tri-Cities metro areas. The Q4 average is listed first followed by the buying power after an adjustment for inflation from the Q4 2008 pre-recession benchmark.

  • Carter County – $619 – Up $9 a week
  • Unicoi County – $814 – up $26 a week
  • Washington County TN – $748 up $36 a week
  • Sullivan Co. – $877 – up $10 a week
  • Hawkins Co. – $725 – up $15 a week
  • Scott Co. VA – $599 – up $1 a week
  • Washington Co. VA – $692 – up $8 a week
  • Bristol TN – $707 – up $66 a week.


Johnson City metro job creation surge highlights Tri-Cities labor market report

May Tri-Cities job creations were not the disappointment they were on the national level.

A surge in the Johnson City metro area more than made up for a softer increase in Kingsport-Bristol and gave the region a 1.8% year-over-year increase.

job creation rate


May was also the 31st straight month Tri-Cities job creations have increased on the year-over-year metric.  So far this year has been the best for new jobs since 2012.

Preliminary, not-adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll report numbers show there were 3,600 more Tri-Cities jobs in May than May last year. Earlier this month economists were disappointed with the Labor Department report showing employers added 38,000 new jobs nationwide. The media always uses the seasonally adjusted total in its reports.  Look for that number to be adjusted when the June report is issued.

The Johnson City metro area was up 1,700 jobs in May, while Kingsport-Bristol is 1,900.

The three-month moving average – used to take some of the noise out of the monthly year-over-year numbers – shows job creation recovering from a seasonal first-of-the-year swoon and making solid increases in May and June.

As good as those numbers are some context is in order to illustrate that the local recovery continues to be slow.

joobs employment


There were 3,400 fewer Tri-Cities non-farm jobs in May than there were at the labor market’s pre-recession peak nine years ago. Kingsport-Bristol accounts for 1,800 of those job losses while Johnson City is down 1,600.

Employment also made a strong gain in May even though unemployment rates in both metro areas increased slightly. Although the employment numbers from the Household survey get wider use by the media and are the base for the U3 unemployment report their accuracy on the local level is questionable. ETSU economists Dr. Steb Hipple constantly advises that the payroll report numbers are a more accurate and dependable measure of the local labor market. He has called the local unemployment numbers the most worthless data collected by the federal government.

The payroll report is the larger and best measure of the labor market. It reports the number of people who have jobs and in which labor sector, the hours they worked and how much they were paid. It’s a Metropolitan Statistical Area study, so it offers no information about jobs on the county or city level. But it  overlooks many self-employed or contract workers who have a growing share of today’s labor market.

The household survey is available on the county and cities with 25,000 or more population levels, but its focus is on who has a job – not where the job is located. For instance, a Bristol resident working in Johnson City is reported in Bristol’s employment. One of its major weaknesses is how it classified people as employed. For instance, a part-time worker working just a few hours a week is classified just like a full-time worker. It also does not differentiate between voluntarily part-time workers and those who would rather be working full-time.

Used in concert with the payroll report, the household survey’s employment numbers are most useful when compared with the year-over-year job creation rate. For the past three months, the employment rate increase has been higher than the job creation rate.

The household survey shows employment was up 5,628 from May last year, but month-over-month growth was flat with April.

Last month’s employment was down 16,666 from its pre-recession high.

The national labor participation rate dropped to 62.2% in May.

Although that number isn’t available on the local level on a monthly basis a look at the most current Census data compared to a 2008 pre-recession benchmark show labor participation down in both local metro areas has declined from pre-recession levels.

Johnson City labor participation rate dropped from 61.5% in 2008 to 56.2%.

The Kingsport-Bristol rate dropped from 58.5% to 54.3%.

May’s local unemployment rates are:

  • Tri-Cities 4.2%, up 0.1%
  • Johnson City MSA 4.2%, up 0.1%
  • Kingsport-Bristol MSA 4.2%, up 0.1%
  • Carter County 4.4% unchanged
  • Greene County 4.1, down 0.3%
  • Hawkins County 4.3%, down 0.1%
  • Johnson County 3.6% unchanged
  • Sullivan County 4.2% unchanged
  • Unicoi County 5.8% up 0.1%
  • Washington County 3.8% up 0.1%
  • Bristol TN 4.7%, up 0.1%
  • Johnson City 4%, up 0.2%
  • Kingsport 4.3 unchanged





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