Tri-Cities job growth rate slows; Johnson City MSA continues losing jobs

A recent Kingsport-Times News report citied complaints from Phipps Bend manufacturers that they were having problems getting workers who are committed to show up on time, be there every day and work a 40-hour week.

The annual seasonal labor market slump has arrived in the Tri-Cities, but only one of the region’s two metro areas had fewer jobs than June last year.  The Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) kept the dubious distinction of being the only MSA in the state that has consistently lost jobs this year. Overall the region gained 600 nonfarm jobs due to Kingsport-Bristol MSA growth, according to preliminary non-seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers.

At the same time, the region’s unemployment rate increased to 4.3%, but there were 1,036 more people with jobs than there were June Last year. The jobless rate increase was created by the seasonal labor force decline.

The Johnson City MSA began the year with 100 more jobs than it had in January 2017. But the wheels fell off in February. Since then it has lost jobs at the average rate of 70 a month. The loss is not coming in the private sector. There were 100 more private sector jobs in June than June last year. It’s coming in the government sector according to the BLS. The only silver lining on the government jobs trend outlook is the rate of loss improved in May and June.

Employers are adding nonfarm jobs at a slower rate across the region this year. Technically, the region is at full employment, but there are complaints that finding and retaining employees is becoming more difficult. This comes are the same time of a couple of big layoffs in the manufacturing sector and a notice from Bristol Compressor that is would be closing – a loss of 470 jobs.

A rising jobless rate when the labor force is increasing is a good sign because the employment situation is pulling more people into the market. When the unemployment rate falls because of participation, it’s usually a bad sign.

A recent Kingsport-Times News report cited complaints from Phipps Bend manufacturers that they were having problems getting workers who are committed to show up on time, be there every day and work a 40-hour week. The report quoted Hawkins County Industrial Development Board Chairman Larry Elkins saying, employers are having a difficult time “even at $15 per hour getting people to come to work.”

The average private sector wages for the Kingsport-Bristol MSA was not available in the June BLS report and monthly data for this year has been retracted. No explanation is offered on the BLS website.

Johnson City’s average weekly private sector wage was $706 in June, up $39.56 from last year. Private sector workers in that metro area have seen their average wage increase every month for the 35 months. However, private sector wages in both of the Tri-Cities metro areas are among the lowest in the state of Tennessee.


Here’s how June’s unemployment rates looked in the cities above 25,000 population and counties that make up the Tri-Cities region.

Carter – 4.8%

Greene – 5.3%

Tri-Cities jobs trend

Hawkins – 4.6%

Johnson – 3.9%

Sullivan – 4.4%

Unicoi – 5.7%

Washington County 4.3%

Bristol – 4.7%

Johnson City – 4.3%

Kingsport – 4.2%

Tennessee – 4.1%

United State – 4.2

U6 rate – 7.8%.

The U6 unemployment rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment, but also counts marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons. Some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U3 report could be working as little as an hour a week. U6 also counts marginally attached workers include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still, want to work. The U6 rate calculated on the national level only.



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