It’s not your father’s Tri-Cities labor market anymore

How many are working full-time, part-time and how many don’t work

It’s accepted knowledge that more part-time and contract work has become staples in today’s labor market. A rapidly aging population is also altering the world of work as the region’s economy struggles with a restructuring that is slowly defining today’s labor market and economy. Whether or not – or how – the local economy recovers to pre-recession levels remains to be seen. In some ways, the future is already here, and it’s not evenly distributed. The most current data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show our GDP is not back to pre-recession levels and updated Census reports underscore some of the tectonic changes in the labor market.

If you apply the typical 16-to-64 years-old measure to the labor force about 45% of the folk of that age were employed full-time last year, 26% worked less than part-time, and 30% didn’t work. I know, that adds up to 101%. That’s because the percentages are rounded, and the 2016 American Community Survey is based on estimates. They’re pretty good estimates with a low margin of error.

A slightly different picture evolves if you drop the 16-to-19-year-olds out of the picture. While some of them do have jobs, many – if not most – are full-time students.

Using 20-to-64 years-old as a prime working age base gives us a Tri-Cities full-time employment benchmark of 48%, part-time 24% and 28% for those who didn’t work last year.

A drill-down to the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) level shows the thee-county Johnson City MSA had 51% full-time, 25% part-time and 25% who didn’t work.

The four-county Kingsport-Bristol’s (MSA) saw a slightly lower share: 48% full-time, 24% part-time and 28% who didn’t work.

The first question that comes up with these new numbers is how many of those working part-time would rather have a full-time job. It’s a good question without a good local answer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a number for it on the national and state level. It’s called the U6 unemployment rate. But the unemployment number you see each month is the U3 report. U6 isn’t calculated below the state level.

The BLS’s most current annual U6 rate for Tennessee is 10.7% compared to the 2015 annual U3 rate of 5.4% (2016 numbers are not available, yet). Anything about a local level look is speculation. But we do know that parts of the Tri-Cities – especially Kingsport – wrestles with a chronic underemployment challenge. And more and more market watchers are beginning to cite wage stagnation as a local issue. Some – but not all – of the wage stagnation issue comes from increased part-time and contract work.

A final component to our most current labor market picture is the folks over 65 who are still on the job. And, it’s an important component when you have a population where 15 people a day are turning 65.

Kingsport-Bristol had a higher share of workers 65-to-69 years old who were still on the job full-time last year – 10.4% of every one in that age group. Another 18% worked part-time. And 3.2% of those 70 and older were still full-time workers while 9.2% were employed part-time.

The work force share is a little different in the Johnson City MSA. In the 65-69 years-old bracket 7.8% were employed full-time while 24.3% worked part-time. The 70 and over bracket has 4.2% working full-time and 9% on the job part-time.

A drill-down by the share of part-time workers by age group shines a stronger light on last year’s labor market.

Here’s how it looked in each of the region’s two MSA’s.

Johnson City:

  • 20-24 – 51.7%.
  • 25-44 – 23.4
  • 45 – 54 – 19.5%
  • 55-64 – 16.4%


  • 20-24 – 55.8%
  • 25-44 – 24.1%
  • 45-54 – 17.1%
  • 45-64 – 19.3%.

And how about those who are working age, but didn’t work last year? Although it’s common knowledge that most of them are Millennials hanging out in the basement playing video games and doing Millennial things the numbers tell a different story.  Here’s the share of those who didn’t work last year by age group.

Johnson City:

  • 20-24 – 19.2%.
  • 25-44 – 23.4%.
  • 45-54 – 23%.
  • 55-64 – 41%.


  • 20-24 – 18.9%.
  • 25-44 – 24.2%.
  • 45-54 – 26.4%.
  • 55-64 – 45.1%.



3 replies

  1. I would like to know how many people over 65 work and if it is full time ot part time. I think they play a bigger part in the workforce than we know

  2. The part of the story that addresses your question is the 9th, 10th and 11th paragraphs of the story.

  3. This is one reason why I tell my students who graduate from ETSU to GTFO of this are.