Tri-Cities job creation bouncing back from slowdown

Preliminary, non-adjusted job creation numbers show a slight slowdown in Kingsport-Bristol pumped the brakes on regional growth in March. But the trend outlook – boosted by stronger Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) growth points to a continued reversal of a slowing trend that began May last year.


That contrasts a national labor market trend that is seeing job growth slowing, suggesting that the labor market is at or near the level the Federal Reserve considers full employment.

The Tri-Cities March unemployment rate dropped to 4.9% –  a nine-month low.

Employers added 1,000 nonfarm jobs in March – down from 2,200 in February.  The month’s job total was 1,100 more than March last year.

March’s area job total lags the pre-recession total by 2,000 and, the share of residents who have a job or who are looking for work remains lower than it was before the recession.  Several factors are driving that situation. The region’s rapidly aging population is seeing more workers retire and some working-age residents remain on the sidelines despite three straight years of nonfarm job growth. The March labor force was down 21,596 from its pre-recession benchmark. That high-point was skewed because over 3,000 former local residents who had lost their jobs came home to weather the recession with parents in the Tri-Cities.


The Johnson City MSA nonfarm job total in March was 200 more than it was in March 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy. It was not quite as rosy in the Kingsport-Bristol MSA. It trails the pre-recession benchmark by 2,000 nonfarm jobs.

The job creation trend shows the region’s two MSAs are bouncing back from the slowing trend that began in April last year with Johnson City leading the way. Its trend line shows the three-county area has outperformed the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA for five months.

The BLS Household Report shows employment in the region was up 0.6% from March last year. The trend line shows growth has slowed for the past five months. The rule of thumb when comparing data from the Payroll and Household reports is if they differ go with the payroll report numbers since it’s the larger – and more accurate – picture of the labor market.


Private sector wages in the three-county Johnson City MSA continued stronger than average growth in March, while the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA is seeing sharp declines.


After 29 straight months of year-over-year gains, the average weekly wage in Kingsport-Bristol dropped into negative territory in December. In March, it was $627 a week, compared to $656 March last year.

The Johnson City MSA March average was $642 a week up from $610 last year. March was the 20th month of wage improvement. The growth rate slowed in March, but it has been above 1% since November 2015.

Kingsport-Bristol has the lowest average private sector wage in the state in March while Johnson City was third lowest.

Here’s a capsule view of March labor market conditions in the region’s two MSAs and three primary cities. The jobs number are preliminary, non-adjusted numbers from the BLS payroll report while employment is from the BLS household survey.

Non-farm jobs –  900 more than March last year. 200 more than the pre-recession benchmark.

Employment – up 843 from March last year. 9,715 below pre-recession high.

Labor Force – up 1,017 from March last year. 10,590 below pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 5%.

Trend – Johnson City’s job creation trend has increased for the past six months. The employment trend is slowly bouncing back from a dip below 1% in December.

Non-farm jobs – 200 more than March last year. 2,200 below pre-recession benchmark.

Employment – up 450 from March last year. 9,038 below pre-recession high.

Labor force – up 539 from March last year. 11,048 below pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate 4.9%.

Trend – Job creation peaked March last year. It declined for eight straight months then bounced back from two months of year-over-year losses in February.  The employment trend dropped below 1% in January and has ebbed lower every month since.


Employment – 36 more than March last year. 1,144 fewer than pre-recession high.

Labor force – 24 more than March last year. 1,226 fewer than pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 5.3%.

Trend – Employment growth is slowing.  It peaked in September and October last year at 1.5% better than the three-month moving average and declined to 0.4% in March.


Employment – 294 more than March last year. 1,304 fewer than pre-recession high.

Labor force – 317 more than March last year. 1,421 fewer than pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate 4.4%.

Trend – The growth rate picked up in March after slowing for 10 months. The city’s employment growth rate has been positive since October 2014.

Employment – 71 more than March last year. 727 fewer than the most recent post-recession high.

Labor force – 156 more than March last year. 1,554 from the most recent post-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 4.4%.

Trend – Kingsport’s employment growth rate has been slowing since November last year.

NOTE – Kingsport’s employment and labor force is compared to the most recent post-recession high because its labor force and employment recovered from the recession in 2011 then began contracting. If compared to the March 2008 pre-recession level employment is 3,340 higher.