Tri-Cities jobs, employment growth continues in July

Tri-Cities employers continued adding nonfarm jobs at an average rate of 200 a month in July. At the same time employment was 1.7% higher than July last year and the unemployment rate was unchanged from June’s 4.6%.


From a trends perspective, July was the third straight month job creations increased and the fourth straight month for employment gains. The long-term trend shows a slowing of net jobs gains as the job creation growth rate softens.


The type of jobs being created is another matter. While there is growth of higher-paying quality jobs, the trend toward part-time or contract work with weaker pay and little or no benefits remains popular with employers to reduce or hold down labor cost. Contracting and subcontracting some types of jobs targeted by local education efforts to balance the region’s underemployment issues has also muted projected results. Another factor is the region’s rapidly aging population and labor force participation rate.


Private sector wages followed the job and employment patterns. It was another month of strong improvement in the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) while wage averages in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA declined from last year’s averages for the seventh straight month. If there were a silver lining for Kingsport-Bristol private sector workers, it’s the rate of decline has been slowly improving since April.


The average weekly private sector wage for Kingsport-Bristol workers in July was $639, down from $652 last year. Johnson City MSA workers saw their weekly wage increase to $676 from $618 last year. Adjusted for inflation from the July pre-recession benchmark, Kingsport-Bristol workers have $20 a week less buying power while Johnson City MSA workers had $24 a week less buying power. During the recovery from the recession and labor market re-set Johnson City workers saw the longest and biggest erosion of wages.

There are several factors to consider when looking at private sector wages – especially in the Kingsport-Bristol region. As workers age-out of the labor force, you would expect to see a decrease in pay since most replacements would not move into those position at the same pay levels. While this dynamic affects the labor market regional wide, Kingsport-Bristol is especially susceptible to feel the effect due to the number of retirements at the larger employers like Eastman.

The Tri-Cities remains at the bottom of Tennessee metro areas for private sector wages. The total pay numbers are boosted by the number of government sector workers.

July’s nonfarm jobs total was the best it has been since the recession but is still 500 short of that pre-recession benchmark. July is typically the bottom of the seasonal jobs ebb and flow, and the region should see numbers pickup next month if the labor market follows the typical pattern.

On the metro level, the job creation tends – as monitored by the year-over-year change in the three-month moving average – in the Johnson City MSA continues to outperform the Kingsport-Bristol MSA.

Both employment and the labor force are also showing improvement on the year-over-year comparisons. The region’s labor force is up by 1,215 people, and employment is up 3,561. But like the jobs total both lag their pre-recession benchmarks. The labor force is down 21,836 people, and employment is down 1,368 from what they were before the recession.

Most of the jobs growth in the Johnson City MSA is coming in trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and government.

Year-over-year job growth in Kingsport-Bristol has been strongest is a trade, transportation and utilities, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and government.

Both MSAs continue feeling an erosion of manufacturing and construction jobs compared to this time last year.

Here’s how the July unemployment rates looked compared to June’s rate in the local counties and the over-25,000 population cities.

Bristol – 4.7%, down 0.1%.

Johnson City – 4.4%, down 0.1%.

Kingsport – 4.6%, no change.

Carter Co. – 4.9%, no change.

Greene Co. – 4.9%, up 0.1%.

Hawkins Co. – 4.7%, no change.

Johnson Co. – 4.1%, up 0.1%.

Sullivan Co. – 4.6%, no change.

Unicoi Co. – 5.9%, no change.

Washington Co. 4.4%, no change.

Data sources – July Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll, employment preliminary and not seasonally adjusted data, BLS private sector wage monthly report, Census Bureau County Business Patterns, Census Bureau Selected Economic Characteristics.



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