New Census data show economic gains, losses in Tri-Cities 2 metro areas

An earlier report on the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey showed last year was a growth year for the Tri-Cities despite some headwinds. A comparison showed jobs, pay, household incomes were up while public assistance was down.  A drill-down to the metro area finds much of the same, but the growth was not distributed evenly. There are also continued signals of how the labor market and retail dynamics of the regions continue shifting toward a new normal.

For example:

  • The median household was up in Kingsport-Bristol, but down in the Johnson City metro area.
  • Per capita income was up in both metro areas.
  • Kingsport-Bristol’s retail employment increased more than it did in Johnson City.
  • While the year-over-year increase in the number of government workers was higher in Johnson City while the Kingsport-Bristol total was higher.
  • Full-time, year-round male workers in Kingsport-Bristol took a pay cut while full-time, year-round female workers led the region for the highest median pay increase.
  • Cash public assistance and food stamp participation were down in both metro areas while there was a small increase the overall poverty rate in the Johnson City metro area and an increase in the number of households receiving Supplemental Security Income in the Kingsport-Bristol area.

Here’s that drill down of selected items with an employment and wage focus.

Labor force

The number of people in the labor force increased in both of the region’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). The participation rate share was highest in the three-county Johnson City MSA. But the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA had the largest number of people joining the labor force, which is expected since it has the largest population. It also had the best increase.

The Johnson City MSA participation rate last year was 56.8%, up from 51.1% in 2016 while the Kingsport-Bristol rate was 57.5%, up from 52.2. The U.S. rate was 62.9% up 0.1%.

Since the Johnson City MSA is home to two four-year colleges the number of working-age people increased more than it did in Kingsport-Bristol.  The Census looks at working age as 16 and over. That age group increased by 2,499 in Johnson City and declined by 80 in Kingsport-Bristol. College students are supposed to be counted at their college address, either on or off campus. They can be counted at their parents’ home only if they live and sleep there most of the year.


The number of people employed in Kingsport Bristol was up 3,700 from 2016 and 854 in Johnson City.

Occupation drill down:

Management, business, science, and arts occupations: Johnson City up 2,937. Kingsport-Bristol up 991.

Sales and office occupations: Johnson City up 1,325. Kingsport-Bristol down 699.

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations: Johnson City down 2,218. Kingsport-Bristol down 1,286.

Production transportation and material moving occupations: Johnson City up 490, Kingsport-Bristol up 1,529.


Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining: Johnson City up 287. Kingsport-Bristol down 330.

Construction: Johnson City down 2,587. Kingsport-Bristol down 694. (The total number of construction workers in the Johnson City metro area was 4,519 and 10,069 in Kingsport-Bristol).

Manufacturing: Johnson City up 2,553. Kingsport-Bristol up 4,380.

Wholesale trade: Johnson City down 833. Kingsport-Bristol up 617.

Retail trade: Johnson City down 747. Kingsport-Bristol up 1,311. (There were 11,213 retail employees in the Johnson City metro area last year – 12.3% of the total labor force. In Kingsport-Bristol the number was 16,686 – 12.9% of the jobs.)

Transportation and warehousing and utilities: Johnson City down 1,152. Kingsport-Bristol down 54.

Information: Johnson City down 87. Kingsport-Bristol up 707.

Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing: Johnson City up 586. Kingsport-Bristol down 140.

Education services and health care and social assistance: Johnson City up 3,261. Kingsport-Bristol down 1,009.

Arts, entertainment and recreation and accommodations and food services: Johnson City up 1,202. Kingsport-Bristol down 122.

Other services except public administration: Johnson City down 2,034. Kingsport-Bristol up 1,688.

Public administration: Johnson City up 121. Kingsport-Bristol up 523.

Class of workers

Private wage and salary workers: Johnson City up 854. Kingsport-Bristol up 2,481.

Government workers: Johnson City up 2,191. Kingsport-Bristol down 258. (The total number of government workers in the Johnson City metro area last year was 14,314. In Kingsport-Bristol it was 17,312).

Self-employment in owned not incorporated businesses: Johnson City down 2,258. Kingsport-Bristol up 1,632. (The share of self-employed to the total number of workers was 5.1% in Johnson City and 7.4% in Kingsport Bristol)

Income and benefits

Median household income: Johnson City $40,663, down 0.7% from 2016. Kingsport-Bristol $43,516, up 6.6%.

Median family household income: Johnson City $54,107, up 6.8%. Kingsport-Bristol $55,696 up 7.3%.

Per capita income: Johnson City $25,778, up 6.5%. Kingsport-Bristol $26,042, up 8.1%.

Median income for workers: Johnson City $26,832, up 4.7%. Kingsport-Bristol $26,584, up 4.4%.

Median earnings for male full-time, year-round workers: Johnson City $41,076, up 4.6%. Kingsport-Bristol $41,455, down 0.5%.

Median earnings for female full-time, year-round workers: Johnson City $33,640 down 5.6%. Kingsport-Bristol $34,581 up 8.1%.

Social Security and retirement

Households receiving Social Security: Johnson City 32,824. Kingsport Bristol 58,012.

Mean Social Security income: Johnson City $17,983, up $518. Kingsport-Bristol: $19,165, up $781.

Households with retirement income: Johnson City 15,581, down 808. Kingsport-Bristol: 29,252, up 561.

Mean retirement income: Johnson City – $19,434, up $678. Kingsport-Bristol: $19,277, down $1,141.

SSI, public assistance, food stamps, poverty

Households with Supplemental Social Security: Johnson City – 3,643, down 1,298. Kingsport-Bristol 9,206, up 741.

Mean SSI income: Johnson City: $10,791, up $2,602. Kingsport-Bristol: $8,416, down $1,024.

Households with cash public assistance: Johnson City: 1,278, down 496. Kingsport-Bristol: 3,348, down 1,516.

Households with Food Stamp benefits in past 12 months: Johnson City: 12,143, down 2,850. Kingsport-Bristol: 19,281, down 906.

Overall poverty rate: Johnson City – 13.3%, up 0.2%. Kingsport-Bristol – 11.5%, down 1.3%.



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