Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport jobless rates below 4%, jobs growth trend slows

May’s labor market reports served up a lot to get your mind wrapped around.

Johnson City unemployment rate dropped to 2.9%, and the rest of the area saw rates below 4%. It was the second month of decades low jobless rates and another signal that the seven-county Tri-Cities region may have reached its new normal.


But the best thing to hold onto when looking at those unemployment rates is they are preliminary, non-adjusted numbers and by themselves not the best metric of the labor market.

Although rates dropped, the economy produced 1,300 fewer nonfarm jobs in the seven-county region than it did in April. On the brighter side, May’s jobs total was 1,100 better than May last year. The job creation trend was down for the second straight month and only 0.4% better than May last year. The growth rate saw six months of 1% or better growth last year but began a contraction in July that bottomed in December.

And when you drill down nonfarm jobs to the region’s two Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) May was a continuation of a very different dynamic from the regional big picture.

The Johnson City MSA job total was down 700 from April but continued its upward tracking on the more important year-over-year measure. That number was 1,300 jobs higher. It’s also noteworthy that the Johnson City MSA has more jobs in May than it did in May 2008, the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy.

The picture is not so rosy in the Kingsport-Bristol MSA. May’s job count was down 600 from April and down 200 from May last year. It was the second straight month the jobs market has recorded a year-over-year contraction.

That jobs picture mirrors this year’s trend for private sector wages. Johnson City wages post strong May increase, Kingsport-Bristol down for fifth straight month


Here’s the monthly capsule look at the local labor market conditions. Both the Payroll report for nonfarm jobs and the Household report for employment, labor force and unemployment are preliminary, non-adjusted numbers, so they will see adjustments when the June reports are issued.


Nonfarm jobs 202,000, up 1,100 from May last year, 2,400 fewer than the May pre-recession benchmark.

Unemployment rate 3.4%

Employment – 217,310, up 1,874 from May last year, 20,018 less than the pre-recession high.

Labor force – 225,020, down 774 from May last year, down 25,186 from the pre-recession high.



Nonfarm jobs – 80,500, up 1,300 from May last year, 100 more than the May pre-recession benchmark.

Unemployment rate – 3.2%.

Employment -86,240, up 1,503 from May last year, down 9,972 from the pre-recession high.

Labor force – 89,090, up 233 from May last year, down 12,270 from the pre-recession high.


Nonfarm jobs – 121,500, down 200 from May last year, down 2,5,00 from the May pre-recession benchmark.

Unemployment rate – 3.6%

Employment – 131,080, down 533 from May last year, down 9,028 from the pre-recession high.

Labor market – 135,930, down 1,007 from May last year, down 12,948 from the pre-recession high.


Unemployment rate – 3.1%

Employment – 11,060, up 17 from May last year, down 1,134 from pre-recession high.

Labor force – 11,420, down 232 from May last year, down 1,466 from the pre-recession high.


Unemployment rate – 2.9%

Employment – 29,990, up 531 from May last year, down 1,294 from the pre-recession high.

Labor force – 30,900, up 72 from May last year, down 1,881 from the pre-recession high.


Unemployment rate 3.3%

Employment – 21,520, down 291 from May last year, down 697 from the previous post-recession high.

Labor force – 22,260, down 240 from May last year, down 1,974 from its post-recession high. Kingsport is the only local city where employment reached then exceeded the pre-recession high but has declined from those 2013 levels.


Johnson City wages post strong May increase, Kingsport-Bristol down for fifth straight month

Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), private sector wages, declined again in May while wage growth in the Johnson City MSA continued a higher rate than the national average.


This Tri-Cities metro area wage pattern has persisted since the first of the year. Before that, both metro areas had positive year-over-year growth since January 2015.

Kingsport-Bristol also saw a 200 year-over-year decrease in nonfarm jobs, while the Johnson City MSA total grew by 1,600. The month-over-month jobs total for the seven-county region was down 1,300 from April with Johnson City seeing most of the seasonal decline.

Both the private sector wage and nonfarm job numbers are preliminary, non-adjusted number from May’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Payroll Report. The May Household Report and unemployment rates for cities and counties haven’t been released yet. Since the numbers are preliminary, some adjustments can be expected when the June report are released. Monthly adjustments for the Payroll Report are typically minimal.

The regional job creation trend line began decreasing in March. The economy is still adding jobs, but the growth rate is slowing.  And like the wage trend conditions opposite in the region’s two metro area. The three-county Johnson City MSA’s labor market and jobs economy is outperforming the pace of its four-county neighbor to the north.

When compared to May wage averages across the state Kingsport-Bristol had the lowest. The Johnson City MSA ranked sixth among the state’s MSAs. That’s noteworthy because May was one of the rare occasions when the Johnson City average was higher than Morristown ($655 last month.  Private sector wages in the Tri-Cities are typically the lowest in the state.


Knoxville had the highest May weekly average $902.

The Tennessee average was $794, and the US average was $902.


May’s weekly private sector average wage was $637.94, down $13.98 from May last year.

Private sector workers account for 86% of the nonfarm jobs in Kingsport-Bristol. The most current Census data show a full-time male worker in that area earns $42,099 a year while a full-time female worker earns $32,055. The median worker wage is $26,409.

Reports on total worker pay boosts the private sector averages. They are reported on the county level. The most current averages for counties in the Kingsport-Bristol MSA and their performance from last year are:

Hawkins – $761, up 7.3%.

Sullivan – $879, up 2.1%.

Scott Co. VA – $614, up 2.8%.

Washington Co. VA – $700, up 4.5%.


May’s weekly private sector average wage was $661.69, up $32.85 from May last year.

Private sector workers accounted for 80% of total nonfarm jobs in May.

The most current Census data show a full-time male worker in that area earned $41,781 while a full-time female worker earned $29,787. The median worker was $25,057.

The most current total worker wage and its performance for the three counties in the Johnson City MSA are:

Carter – $624, up 5.1%.

Unicoi – $789, up 2.3%

Washington – $772, up 5.2%.



Retail sales tax collections improve in Johnson City MSA – Kingsport-Bristol still in a funk; economic signals mixed

Northeast Tennessee’s April retail sales tax collections rebounded from March’s funk everywhere except Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

Kingsport-Bristol had the dubious distinction of having the lowest year-over-year change in the state – down 4% from April 2016. That came on the heels of March’s 1.9% drop.


The region’s other metro areas saw collections increases in the 6% range from April while Kingsport-Bristol saw a month-over-month change of down 0.5%.

Here’s how seasonally adjusted collections as reported by MTSU looked compared to April last year followed by the month-over-month change.

Morristown – up 1.8%, up 6.4% from March.

Johnson City – up 0.7%, up 6.1% from March.

Knoxville – up 0.3%, up 6.7% from March.

Kingsport-Bristol – down 4%, down 0.5% from March.

Trend lines for Tri-Cities collections show April is a downer even with the positive change in the three-county Johnson City. The seven-county Tri-Cities region enjoyed eight months of relatively stable year-over-year gains until the wheel came off that wagon in March.

Local sales tax collections are a contradiction to consumer spending nationwide in April. Fueled by rising incomes and tax refunds spending grew at the fastest clip since the end of 2016. Spending was up 0.4%, according to government reports.

According to MarketWatch, “the uptick in spending in April is yet more evidence the economy is expanding a more rapid pace in the second quarter.”

Local economic reports are all over the place for the first quarter.

Unemployment rates dropped to new lows in April, and the economy continued adding jobs. It’s growing, but the rate of growth turned down in April after a three-month uptick.

The context to the labor market’s current gains is there are close to 2,000 fewer people with jobs than before the recession, the labor force has declined by 22,666 people, and there are 1,700 fewer non-farm jobs than before the recession. This could very likely be the benchmark for the region’s economic reset from the Great Recession.

Private sector wage reports show a bifurcated region with average wages in the Johnson City MSA increasing and Kingsport-Bristol continuing a downtrend. Private sector wages in the Tri-Cities continue to be among the lowest in the state.

The third local economic indicator – housing – is the bright spot. Its performance continues to lead the other local indicators with brisk existing home sales and improving prices.


Washington County leads Tenn. in new housing index; Sullivan also makes strong showing

Attom Data Solution’s first-ever Pre-Mover Housing Index was an eye-opener for local real estate economy watchers.

Washington County had the highest index in Tennessee; the highest predictive performance rating; it’s the only county with a quarter-over-quarter index improvement; and it had the best quarter-over-quarter average property value increase in the state.

Sullivan County had an index that put it just behind the hot Nashville and Clarksville area markets and above the other East Tennessee markets.

Those are weighty market assessments for a region that is often only a second though in real estate industry discussions. And while the index is not a predictor of the number of home sales it can be viewed as a barometer for market activity.

The index flags markets with a strong above-average ratio of homes that will likely be sold in the next 30 days.

Attom bases its index on data collected from purchase loan application on residential real estate transactions. The index is based on the ratio of home with a “pre-mover” flag to the total homes in the market indexed off the national average. An index above 100 is above the national average and indicates and above-average ratio. Historical pre-mover data going back to Q1 2014 shows that 62.2% of homes with a pre-mover flag sell within 30 days of the estimated loan settlement data.

The Q1 index for Washington County is 242, the highest it has been since Q4 2014. It’s also a 41% improvement from Q1 last year. The index shows 96.5% of the pre-movers are primary residents, 1.5% are second homes and 3.7% are investment properties.

Sullivan County has an index of 211, the best since Q1 2015. That’s a 22% improvement from Q1 2016. Primary residences dominated the pre-mover homes at 96.2% while 2.5% were second homes and 2.5% were investment properties.

Here’s what the index looked like for other state markets:

Rutherford County – 237.

Williamson County – 232.

Davidson County – 222.

Montgomery County – 221.

Sumner County – 206.

Hamilton County – 147.

Knox County – 134.

Shelby County – 106.

Sevier County – 78.

“The first quarter pre-mover data reinforces that home buyers in 2017 are more likely to be moving to markets — or moving up within markets — that still have relatively affordable housing inventory along with access to jobs,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “The pre-mover data also shows a similar migration toward affordability at the county level.”





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