April another Tri-Cities full-employment month; Johnson City jobless rate drops to 2.8%

The Tri-Cities recorded another month of full-employment in April. Nonfarm jobs were up 1,200 from March’s total. Employment in the seven-county region hit a 54-month high, and even though the labor force was up for the first time in three months, the employment numbers drove unemployment rates lower.

Johnson City’s jobless rate dropped to a record low of 2.6%. It was just one of 18 of the state’s 33 cities with 25,000 or more population that was under 3% last month. Franklin had the lowest unemployment rate – 1.9%.

The jobs trend was up for the first time this year in the region and both of its metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

That’s the good news from last month non-adjusted, preliminary numbers. When compared to the pre-recession high there were 2,100 fewer nonfarm jobs and employment was down by 15,741. The reason unemployment rates are so low is the labor force is down 22,685 from its pre-recession high.

And despite the jobs and employment changes, the Tri-Cities still has underemployment issues and many of the new jobs that have been created are part-time or contract work. But “we’re hiring” signs are common and the recent Bristol Hiring Expo hosted 40 local employeers who were looking to fill 1,500 positions.

But in today’s labor market – which is considered recovered from the recession – we’re at a point where a labor shortage is being talked about more than unemployment. And it’s not just the lack of workers with high-skills that employers say they can’t find. That’sdriving local average private sector wages higher. Still, some of the people looking for workers seem clueless that wages are increasing. A recent example was a recent posting on Facebook looking for a maintenance worker for rental properties. The person posting cited a $9.50 to $10 an hour wage, which followed by a string of comments that the average for those type workers was now about $12 an hour – $15 an hour if the person did some electrical and plumbing work. There have also been reports of some workers leaving office temp workers leaving for jobs temp work at Walmart and Target which have recently increased their wage levels. And nursing internships have a base salary of $11 an hour.

April’s weekly average in the Johnson City MSA was $739.82 which is $76 a week better than April last year. And since workers were on the job an average of a half hour a week more during the same period most of that increase was an actual gain. April was the 33rd straight month for a year-over-year wage gain in the three-county metro area.

Kingsport-Bristol workers also took home more money in April. The weekly average was $646.53, up $13,73 from April last year. And like private sector workers in the Johnson City Metro Area, their average work week was up a little more than a half hour a week. April was the second month this year wages in the four-county metro area have increased ending a 15-month wage decline.

Tri-Cities private sector wages are still among the lowest in the state. In April Kingsport-Bristol had the lowest average among state MSA. It was $183 a week less than the state average. The Johnson City MSA ranked 6th among the state’s 10 MSA and was $90 a week below the state average.

Nashville had the highest average private sector average –  $943 – followed by Knoxville with $919 a week.

All but one Tennessee county recorded unemployment rates lower than 5% in April. Houston County’s unemployment posted at 5%, but that is a nearly one-point drop from 5.9% in March.

Williamson County continued to have Tennessee’s lowest level of unemployment with a rate of 2%.

Gov. Haslam attributed the state’s low jobless rates to “our investments in education and workforce development. Tennessee will lead in job recruitment because we are focused on developing a high-quality workforce.”

Here are the unemployment rates for the region, its metro areas with the counties that make up the MSAs, and cities with 25,000 or more population:

  • Tri-Cities – 3.1%.
  • Johnson City MSA – 3%.
  • Carter County – 3.1%.
  • Unicoi County – 3.9%.
  • Washington County 2.8%.
  • Kingsport-Bristol MSA – 3.1%.
  • Hawkins County – 3.3%.
  • Sullivan County – 3%.
  • Southwest Virginia portion – 3.1%.
  • Bristol – 3.1%.
  • Johnson City – 2.8%.
  • Kingsport – 3.1%.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.9%.

Tennessee’s rate was 3.4%.



2 replies

  1. I assume these are U-1 rates. I wonder if anyone tracks U-4, as isn’t that a more accurate reflection of what is the real situation?

    • These are U3 rates. It’s the standard used by government, businesses, economists and the media. The U-6 rate, which includes “marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons” was 7.8% in April. To get a lower U-6 rate you have to go back to May 2001. Unfortunately, the U-6 rate is not tracked on the local, MSA or state level.