Hawkins, Carter wages led area’s 2017 increases; home prices grew faster than wages in most counties

Most workers saw a wage increase that was better than last year’s inflation rate.

Hawkins and Carter counties had the largest annual increase in average total sector wages in the Tri-Cities region last year.  Workers in Scott County scored the largest increase in the area’ three Southwest Virginia counties.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages earlier this month and although the totals are preliminary they show most workers got a bump in pay last year that was above the 2.1% inflation rate. Washington County and Bristol Virginia are the exceptions. Since the numbers are preliminary, they are subject to revisions when the report for Q1 2018 is released later this year.

Last year’s annual average total sector wage compared to change from 2016.

The wage data offers another look at last year’s key economic indicators for some context on the overall recovery of the regional economy. Earlier this year six of 10 key indicators painted a picture of a growing 2017 Tri-Cities economy, but trend lines for all but three show a flattening or pronounced growth rate declines. At the same time, the four-county Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Area (MSA) trailed the three-county Johnson City MSA in all but one key indicator. Several primary reports haven’t been released yet. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’s (BEA) report on the region’s Gross Domestic Product is due in September and the analysis for local area personal income is due in November. The American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year study is scheduled for release in September and will be supplemented with data for areas of 20,000 population or less in October. The final piece in the 2017 story – the County Business Pattern – won’t be available until next year.

2017 annual total covered sector wage increases compared to the year-over-year increase in home resales.

Since the annual wage report is for total labor sectors covered it offers a broader look at wage performance than the monthly private sector weekly average. And since it’s available on the county level is offers a comparison of wages and average sales prices for single-family home resales. The housing market has been the strongest economic component in the region’s recovery from the Great Recession and it continues to outperform the other segments. Home prices grew faster than wages in all but four jurisdictions. That takes a bite out of local affordability, but it hasn’t pushed the overall affordability picture into the red yet. The region’s current biggest housing challenge is availability – not affordability since new home construction has lagged the recovery and the existing home market is seeing the tightest inventory most locals can remember.

On the metro level, the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had the highest annual wage increase – 3.7%. That boosted the MSA annual average to $40,040.

The four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA had a higher annual average wage ($42,720) but it underperformed its neighbor to the south’s growth rate. Kingsport-Bristol’s annual increase was 2.8%. Weak performance in Washington County VA and a decrease in the Bristol VA negated Scott County’s strong annual showing.

While the average wage offers a good representation of how salaries are distributed over the region the upcoming ACS and BEA reports will offer more specific data on household income ranges. It will also have the best listing of average and median incomes for individuals and households.