Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport restructuring: less employment, more part-timers, but there are exceptions

It’s no surprise part-time jobs replaced a bunch of full-time Tri-Cities jobs during the Great Recession. But just-released city-level Census data shows the work status decline isn’t as drastic as the talk you hear on the street. And there are a couple of exceptions to the trend.

Kingsport’s employment is higher than it was before the recession, and Bristol’s labor force increased while the other cities saw declines.

The bottom line is despite what well-intended media call the local jobs recovery isn’t really a recovery. It’s more of a restructuring.  It didn’t reward or punish equally. And if you use real GDP as a measure of the economy the region isn’t at a pre-recession level yet. The Johnson City MSA has seen small two-year increases but is still 1.1% shy of the pre-recession level. The Kingsport-Bristol MSA reached and exceeded its prerecession level in 2012 then began declining. The most current data show it 0.4% higher than the pre-recession peak.

Before we dive into some data comparisons, it has to be pointed out that the data references are about employment and work status, not jobs. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs data is available at the MSA level, and it shows we’re 1,600 nonfarm jobs short of a pre-recession level.

When you dive into city or county-level data, you get work status and employed. The employment numbers don’t necessarily mean the person works in the city where he or she lives. Someone who lives in Bristol but works in Johnson City is counted in the Bristol employed totals. Fortunately, we’re looking at year-old data, so monthly revisions and an annual readjustment isn’t as big an issue.

Between 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy – and the most current American Community Survey Census report the number of working-age people (16-to-64) who usually worked 35 hours a week or more declined in Bristol, TN, Johnson City, and Kingsport.

Remember – the segment this data focuses on is the working-age population only.

Kingsport took the biggest hit, down 8% followed by Bristol – down 5.2%, then Johnson City, down 3.9%.

The number of people working 15-to-35 hours increased in the same order:

Kingsport, up 2.3%.

Bristol, up 1.1%.

Johnson City, up 0.6%.

Bristol led the pack with the share of those who worked 1-to-14 hours a week. The share was up 1.1% while it was 0.9% for Johnson City and Kingsport each.

Kingsport was heads and shoulders above the other cities in the share of people who didn’t work in 2015 and the increase in that work status category from 2008.

In 2015 38% of Kingsport’s working-age population didn’t work, up 12% from 2008.

Those who didn’t work in Bristol was a 28.6% share of the population, up 2.8%.

In Johnson City, 25.2% didn’t work in 2015, up 2.6%.

The mean hours worked also declined in each city.

Kingsport’s 2015 mean was 39.2 hours, down 1.2 hours from 2008.

The mean in Bristol was 37.8 hours, down 1.6 hours.

Johnson City’s mean hours worked was 36.4, down 0.5 hours.

The last phase of this 2015 v. 2008 work status comparison deals with the share of the working-age population in and out of the labor force, and there was a surprise.

The number of working-age people in Bristol’s labor force increased to 57.4% in 2014, up 1.2% from 2008. But that doesn’t mean all of those people were looking for work.

Johnson City’s 2015 share was 59.6%, down 0.2% while Kingsport’s share was 53.3%, down 2.5%.

The number of people out of the 2015 Bristol labor force was 42.6%, down 1.2%.

Those out of the Johnson City labor force accounted for a 40.4% share, up 0.3%.

In Kingsport, 45.7% of the population was not in the labor force, up 2.5%.

Here’s a snapshot version of the 2015 v. 2008 annual employment averages for the three cities:


Employed – 10,832 down 10.3% from 2008 and 1,244 lower than the pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 6%, up 1% from 2008 and 2.2% higher than the pre-recession low


Employed – 28,682, down 6.1% from 2008 and down 2,125 from the pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 5.9%, up 0.2% from 2008 and 1.9% are higher than the annual pre-recession low.


Employed – 21,021, up 16.8% from 2008 and 2,878 are higher than the pre-recession annual high.

Unemployment rate – 6%, down 0.1% from 2008 and up 1.6% from the annual pre-recession low.



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