Economy booming, but 2017 Johnson City Census data waves red flags

Last year was a good year for the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area’s (MSA) economy. But a drill-down on the three-county metro area’s principal city shows some red flags of change from 2016 and patterns that don’t parallel with metro area booming economy data.

For example: while the region’s population was up, it declined in the city. The median household income declined, but the average family household income increased and nears the $100,000 a-year mark. It’s also noteworthy that full-time, year-round female workers got a big pay increase and made more money than their male counterparts, according to the recently released Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey.

CLICKING ON CHART RENDERS LARGER FILE. Red vertical line marks approximate position of median household income

From the MSA perspective, the real GDP (total economic output) of the MSA had its third straight year-over-year increase, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. And when you look at the same data for the four metro areas in NE Tenn.  Johnson City’s growth rate was second to Morristown and that the two smallest economies outperformed the much larger Knoxville and Kingsport-Bristol MSA economies. Despite the GDP growth of the Johnson City MSA in the past three years, it has not recovered to its pre-recession high. Since 2009 the metro area’s economy has declined by $20 million. But considering the metro area’s growth trend $20 million is not a huge factor in a $6.1 billion economy. Those are real dollars adjusted for inflation – not current dollars.

Previous reports

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

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

Tri-Cities sees first real economic growth since 2012; smaller NE Tenn. economies outperforming big metro areas 


The Johnson City MSA’s population grew by 3,013 in 2017. But the city saw a population drop of 1,160 people. The metro area’s 1.5% growth from 2016 was less than what the area had seen in previous years because its migration growth rate slowed. Migration is a big deal when it comes to population because the entire region has a negative natural population growth population. That simply means more people die than are born.


CLICKING ON CHART RENDERS LARGER FILE. Red verticle line marks approximate position of median family household income

When you look at the working-age population (16 and older) the decline was much steeper than the overall population decline – 4.3% (2,419 people).

The city’s labor force participation rate dropped from 61.4% in 2016 to 60.7% in 2017. At the same time, there were 1,211 fewer people employed – a situation that carried over to the first half of this year when the Johnson City MSA was the only metro area in the state showing a jobs decline.


Here’s a 2017 v. 2016 snapshot of the ups and down by occupations and industry:

  • Management, business, science and arts occupations, up 2.2% (186 people).
  • Service occupations declined by 550 people (down 1%)
  • Sales and office occupations, up 1.8% (287 people).
  • Natural resources, construction, and materials moving occupations, down 2.4% (799 workers).
  • Production, transportation, and materials moving occupations, down by 0.7% (335 workers).
  • Construction, down 0.8% (295 workers)
  • Manufacturing, down 0.2% (166 workers).
  • Wholesale trade, down 0.2% (87 workers).
  • Retail trade, up 1.6% (369 workers)
  • Transportation, warehousing and utilities, down 2.9% (947 workers)
  • Information, up 0.4% (97 workers)
  • Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, up 1.9% (553 people)
  • Professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services, down 2.4% (902 workers)
  • Education services, health care and social assistance, up 5.6% (1,388)
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations and food services, down 0.7% (373 workers)
  • Other services – except public administration, down 2.2% (743 workers)
  • Public administration, down 0.2% (79 workers).
  • The total number of civilian workers, down 1,211 from 2016.
  • Private wage and salary workers, down 2.4% (194 workers).
  • Government workers, up 0.6% (29 workers).
  • Self-employed in not incorporated businesses, down 3% (1,026 people).


The median total household income was $35,700. That’s down $5,642 (13.6%) from 2016. At the same time, the average household income increased by 1.6% to $62,252

Last year’s median family household income was $55,951, down 4.2% ($2,440) from 2016. But the average family income increased 25.5% to $90,716.


The median earnings for workers was $22,229, down 6.3% ($1,500).

The median earnings for full-time male, year-round workers were $37,976, down 23.9% ($11,898)

The median earnings for full-time female, year-round workers were $39,255, up 10.2% ($3,643).


The number of households receiving Social Security declined 3.9% to 8,311 while the number of households receiving Social Security Supplemental Income declined by 3% (695 households)

The number of households receiving cash public assistance dropped to 204 from 858 in 2016.

The number of households receiving Food Stamps declined by 2.3% to 4,294 households.

The percentage of people who had an income below the poverty rate during the 12-month period was 22.1%, up from 19.3% in 2016.