Census tags winners, losers in Johnson City, Kingsport-Bristol metro areas as area economy moves to post-recession norm

The recently released American Community Survey (ACS) census data pointed to 2017 as a growth year for the Tri-Cities. A separate report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the region saw real economic growth – breaking four years of decline in Kingsport-Bristol. A story on that will be made early next week. It basically affirms what a metro area drill down on the ACS shows. While it was a growth year, that growth continues to be uneven as the region readjusts to the post-recession economic norm. There are also signs that income disparity is growing here as it is nationwide.


A comparison of median household incomes in the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Area (MSA) and the four-county Kingsport-Bristol TN VA MSA shows Johnson City declined by $280 from 2016 while Kingsport-Bristol had a $2,705 increase.  To add context the 2017 inflation rate was 2.1%, so the bite on more than half of the households in the Johnson City region was even greater.

The income picture is brighter when it moves to family households. The median was up $3,434 in the Johnson City metro area and up $3,810 in Kingsport Bristol. Adjusted for inflation, half of the family households in the Johnson City metro area saw a 4.7% increase in income while the top half in Kingsport-Bristol saw a 5.3% increase.

The 2017 median household and family household incomes are:

Johnson City MSA:

Household – $40,663

Family Household – $54,107

Kingsport-Bristol MSA:

Household – $43,516

Family Household – $55,696

A noteworthy point on both the all-households and family household income data is the spread between the median and mean. The medium is the point where half have a higher income and half have a lower income. The mean – or average – illustrates the income distribution. The median-mean spread is $20,501 in Johnson City and $18,434 in Kingsport-Bristol. The household income spread is 19,397 in Johnson City and $17,551 in Kingsport Bristol.

You can gauge the distribution of household income in the share of households by income and the 2017-2016 change in those households.


Johnson City MSA workers saw a $1,206 increase. Kingsport-Bristol workers weren’t far behind with a $1,127 annual increase. The adjusted for inflation context is half of the full-time workers in the Johnson City metro area had a 2.6% wage increase while the top half in Kingsport-Bristol saw a 2.3% increase.

The medians are:

Johnson City MSA – $26,832.

Kingsport-Bristol MSA – $26,584

The wage parity between the two metro areas broke quite differently on gender lines. There’s still a wide gender wage disparity, but women in the Kingsport-Bristol area closed the gap while Johnson City female workers lost ground.

Full-time male workers in Johnson City MSA got a $1,826 pay increase while those in Kingsport-Bristol took a $201 a year pay cut. Adjusted for inflation the top half of male full-timers saw a 2.5% wage increase while all the Kingsport-Bristol male workers got a wage haircut.

Full-time female workers in Johnson City MSA took a $2,010 pay cut while those in Kingsport-Bristol saw their annual wage increase by $2,585. Adjusted for inflation, the top half of full-time female workers in Kingsport-Bristol saw a raise that was a little better than 6%.

Full-time worker wages in 2017 were:

Johnson City male – $41,076

Johnson City female – $33,640

Kingsport-Bristol male – $41,455

Kingsport-Bristol female $34,581


The number of households receiving a monthly Social Security check in the Johnson City MSA declined by 369 from the 2016 and 39.3% of the households in the metro area received Social Security.

The opposite was the case in Kingsport-Bristol, which has a demographic base that’s older. Almost half (44.9%) of the households in Kingsport-Bristol received a Social Security check last year, up 1,943 from 2016. The mean benefit for Johnson City MSA recipients was $17,983 while it was $19,165 in Kingsport-Bristol.

If the 2018 Social Security COLA is 2.8% as projected the monthly total for the Tri-Cities in 2019 will be $175.8 million a month. That will increase as more Baby Boomers retire because they had higher earnings than the current recipients which increases their monthly benefit.


The number of households receiving SSI in the Johnson City MSA declined by 1,298 to 3,642. The total in Kingsport-Bristol increased by 741 to 9,206. The median SSI income in Johnson City was $10,791 and $8,416 in Kingsport-Bristol.

A total of 1,278 households in the Johnson City MSA received cash public assistance income in 2017, down 496 from 2016. In Kingsport-Bristol the total was 3,348, down 1,596 up 144.

Households receiving food stamps was 12,143, down 2,850 from 2016. In Kingsport-Bristol households receiving food stamps was down 906 for a 2017 total of 19,218.


The percentage of people whose income was below the poverty level in the Johnson City metro area was 17% down from 17.2% in 2016. Kingsport-Bristol’s overall poverty rate was 15.3% doom from 18.2%.

Click on charts to see a larger file.