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






  1. […] Johnson City metro job creation surge highlights Tri-Cities labor market report  […]

  2. […] Johnson City metro job creation surge highlights Tri-Cities labor market report  […]

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