New Census data shows Tri-Cities jobs, pay, income growth; public assistance declines

Despite some headwinds and stress signals, the Tri-Cities is enjoying a strong economy so far this year that is building on 2017 which new Census data shows was also a growth year.

American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2017 (released Sept. 13) and compared to 2016 data shows:

  • The population increased.
  • Median household and family incomes increased.
  • Median earnings for workers increased.
  • Per capita income increased.
  • More people had jobs.
  • The labor force increased.
  • The number of households with earnings increased.
  • The number of people receiving Supplemental Social Security Income declined.
  • The number of people receiving cash public assistance declined.
  • The number of people receiving food stamps declined.
  • The overall poverty rate decreased.

The health insurance comparison is mixed:

  • More people had private insurance
  • Fewer had public coverage
  • The number of people without insurance increased.

In many ways, 2017 was the year the regional economy began setting its new normal after a slow recovery from the Great Recession. This report will be followed during the comings weeks and months by localized reports on city, county and Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) localizations. Next week Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data for 2017 will add additional perspective to the economies of the regional and metro area. This report uses the 1-year ACS because it’s more representative of current conditions than the 5-years ACS reports that will be released later this year. Supplemental data from the 1-year ACS will be released later this year and will afford additional data on cities and counties that did not meet the population benchmark for the core report.

One thing this comparison does not go into is the growing wealth disparity in the Tri-Cities. That situation will be the topic of a report in the coming weeks.


The region became the new home to 1,204 people last year giving the region a population of 509,376.

Of that increase, Sullivan and Washington counties claimed 857 new residents – 491 to Sullivan and 366 to Washington. The 1-year ACS population estimates have a margin of error of +/-0.2%

This counters the migration trend for the past couple of years when Washington County attracted the lion’s share of new residents. It’s also a downward adjustment from Census population projections released earlier this year. That report projected Sullivan would see an increase of 823 residents and Washington County see 586 new residents.

Attracting new residents is critical to the region since the death rate is higher than the birth rate.


The per capita income in 2017 inflation adjusted numbers for the region increased to $25,937. That’s a healthy 7.4% increase form what it was in 2016. While that’s better than the Tennessee increase of 6.3%, the region lags the state per capita income by $2,827.

The region’s median household income was $42,155 last year. That a 3.2% increase from the previous year. Tennessee’s median household income was up 5.8% to $51,340.

Tri-Cities’ family fared much better with a median household income increase of 6.7% to $54,926. The local increase was better than the state 3.7% increase, but Tennessee’s median family income is almost $12,000 higher than what it is in the Tri-Cities. Fortunately, the Tri-Cities has a lower cost of living than the state.

Earnings for full-time male and female workers were up 1.2%.  For males, the median was $41,304. For females, it was $34,072.


Civilian employment increased by 4,554 and the labor force increased by 3,477. The number of people not in the labor force declined by 1,058.

A broad drill-down from employment compared to 2016 shows:

  • Construction was down 3,281.
  • Manufacturing was up 6,933.
  • Retail trade increased 564.
  • Transportation, warehousing, and utilities declined 1,206.
  • Information increased 620.
  • Finance and insurance; and real estate, rental, and leasing increased 446.
  • Professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services declined by 2,893.
  • Educational services, health care, and social assistance increased 2,252.
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services were up 1,080.
  • Other services – except public administration were down 364.
  • Public administration increased 644.

Here’s a capsule and comparison for the class of workers that illustrates the growth rate for each class.

  • Private wage and salary workers – 174,651, up 3,237 (+1.9%).
  • Government workers – 31,626, up 1,933 (+6.5%).
  • Self-employed in not incorporated businesses – 14,195, down 626 (-4.2%).


The number of households receiving Social Security increased by 1,574 last year to a total of 90,836. The average Social Security income was $18,738, up $696 from 2016.

Households with retirement income were down 247 to 44,833. The average retirement income was $19,322, down $482.


Contrary to some of the political rhetoric, the reliance on SSI, food stamps and cash public assistance declined last year.

SSI recipients totaled 12,849, down 557 from 2016. The average SSI benefit was $9,089, up $110.

There were 4,626 cash public assistance recipients, down 2,012 from the previous year. The average public assistance income was $1,908, up $58.

The number of food stamp recipients was 31,424, down 3,756 from 2016. The cash value of food stamps is not covered in the ACS report. A county by-by county drill down from state reports will follow in the coming weeks.


The region’s poverty rate (percent of families and people whose income in the past 12 months was below the poverty level) dropped to 16% from 17.8%. The state poverty rate was 15% down from 15.1%.

The poverty rate for people under 18 year was 23.2%, down from 25.3%. This state rate for this category 20.9% down from 25.9%.


The number of people with health insurance coverage totaled 458,785 last year. That’s an increase of 1,010.

Of that number, the number with private health insurance was 319,614, up 10,509.

The number with public coverage was 215,669, down 13,657.

There was 43,252 with no health insurance coverage, up 65.




4 replies


  1. New Census data show economic gains, losses in Tri-Cities 2 metro areas – Core Data
  2. Census tags winners, losers in Johnson City, Kingsport-Bristol metro areas as area economy moves to post-recession norm – Core Data
  3. Economy booming, but 2017 Johnson City Census data waves red flags – Core Data