Seasonal slump slows but doesn’t stop Tri-Cities jobs, wage increase trend

The Tri-Cities labor market made it through the bottom of the annual seasonal slump with 300 fewer jobs that it had in June and 2,400 more than July last year. Average private sector wages also increased, but the year-over-year gain was less that what each of the region’s two metro areas have recorded in past months.

Tri 3-month moving


Look for the jobs total to make a substantial increase in August as the market moves out of the seasonal slump. The household survey – the less dependable market metric of the two BLS labor market reports – with city and county unemployment rates will be available later this week.

These are preliminary, non-adjusted non-farm job numbers from the current Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll survey of the region’s two metro areas. Expect some small monthly adjustment when the August report comes out next month.

When a three-month moving average is applied to the data, the year-over-year jobs gain is 1.4%. As the chart illustrates, it’s a solid growth trend line. So far this year, it has been above 1% every month. Using a moving average takes some of the noise out of the monthly year-over-year numbers so you get a better trend perspective.


Johnson City pay


The most current labor force participation rates for local metro areas is 2014, but comparing it to the 2008 rate illustrates how this facet of the labor market is faring in the recovery. The rates in both metro areas have declined. Some of that can be attributed to demographics, and since Kingsport-Bristol has an older population base the number of workers aging out of the labor force can be expected to be greater. At the same time, the rates point to the smaller share of the working-age population who are in the labor force.

The Johnson City metro area had a 4.4% increase in population from 2008, but the labor force participation rate was 5.3% lower than it was in 2008. According to 2014 Census data, 56.2% of the population, 16 years-old and older, was in the labor force.

Kingsport-Bristol saw a 2.4% increase in population in the comparison period and labor force participation was 4.5% lower in 2014. Census data show 54.3% of the Kingsport-Bristol population 16 years-old and older was in the labor force in 2014.


One of the easiest ways to track labor market trends is with the Middle Tennessee State University Department of Economics and Finance’s heat charts. The charts show a color-coded year-over-year comparison of the gains and losses in the area’s 12 job sectors.


Kingsport-Bristol pay


The three-county metro area had 900 more nonfarm jobs in July than July last year. That’s 1.2% better than last year.

Half of the job sectors continue showing growth.

The strongest growth is in the Financial Activities and Retail Trade.

Three sectors were negative in July with Transportation and Utilities taking the hardest hit. That sector’s year-over-year losses have been in the double digits since the first of the year.

Weekly avg. pay

July’s average private sector wage was $601, up 0.4% from July last year. This was the smallest year-over-year gain in the last 11 months.

When adjusted for inflation against the July pre-recession benchmark, the average worker had $73 a week less buying power last month.

Johnson City metro had the lowest average private sector wage of all metro areas in the state in July.

The quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for all employees provides a more inclusive look at the local salary landscape; however, Q4 2014 is the most current data available. Here’s how those quarterly weekly averages look compared to Q4 2008.

  • Carter – $619 up from $547
  • Washington – $748, up from $638
  • Unicoi – $814, up from $706.


The four-county region had 1,500 more nonfarm jobs in July, a 1.3% gain over July last year.

Wholesale Trade moved into the growth column joining the metro area’s six other sectors that were in the green.

Kingsport-Bristol is seeing its strongest growth in Transportation and Utilities, Retail Trade, Professional and Business Services and Leisure and Hospitality.

Information retained it job-loss position in July. It’s been in the double-digit loss column since February.

Weekly avg. pay

July’s weekly average was $635, up 0.3% from July last year. It was the smallest increase in 23 months.

When adjusted for inflation against the July pre-recession benchmark, July’s average had $15 more buying power.

Kingsport-Bristol had the second lowest average private sector wage in NE Tennessee in July, $90 a week behind Morristown and $212 a week behind Knoxville.

Here how the weekly average wage for all employees looked compared to Q4 2008.

Sullivan – $877, up from $795.

Hawkins – $728, up from $638.

Scott Co. VA – $599, up from $536.

Washington Co. VA – $692, up from $627.