Tri-Cities labor market flirts with pre-recession levels; unemployment at 3.8%

For the second time this year there were more non-farm jobs in the Tri-Cities than they were during pre-recession benchmark and the region remains at full-employment status.

Preliminary, non-adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 204,600 nonfarm jobs compared to 204,400 in September 2007. Both of the seven-county region’s two metros logged positive, but unequal growth, for the month.

The three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 100 jobs shy of its pre-recession benchmark as it continues recovering from the first half of the year when it was the only metro area in the state showing year-over-year job declines. That metric has been stuck on 0.3% growth for three of the past four months. The growth rate was flat in July.

Kingsport-Bristol’s economy has picked up the slack with a positive growth rate every month this year. The four-county MSA’s economy has been adding jobs an average rate of 178 a month. It also had 700 more nonfarm jobs in September than it did the year before the Great Recession.

The private sector labor market picture wasn’t as strong as the nonfarm sector in September. It’s still 1,600 shy of the pre-recession benchmark.

Both the Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol MSA had more private sector jobs than they did September last year. So far this year the Johnson City metro economy has been adding an average of five new private sector jobs a month while the Kingsport-Bristol is averaging 106 a month.

Compared to September last year, Johnson City’s job growth was strongest in professional and business services; construction; and the leisure and hospital sectors.

The sectors showing the most year-over-year losses were: trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; and the government sector.

Kingsport-Bristol saw its best growth in the professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; financial activities; and the manufacturing sectors.

The biggest year-over-year job losses were the construction and information sectors.


Trade, transportation and utilities accounted for the most nonfarm jobs in September, followed by the government sector with education and health services close behind for third-place ranking.


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

The number of people with jobs in the region and the labor force increased from August but both were less than they were September last year. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.8% – the fifth month it has been below 4% this year. The moving average employment trend has declined for three straight months.

Employment in the Johnson City metro area was up from August, but – like the region – it and the labor force were lower than September last year. The MSA’s moving-average trend has declined for four months. September’s unemployment rate was 4.1%.

Employment in Kingsport-Bristol was up when compared to August and both employment and the labor force were an improvement over last year. At the same time the employment trend has declined for the last two months. September’s unemployment rate was 3.6%.


The average private sector wage in both metro areas increased last month.

Kingsport-Bristol workers saw a 2.8% increase over last year for a $650 average. The average hourly wage was  $18.26.

Johnson City’s average was $703 a week, up 1.2% from last year. The average hourly wage was $19.97.

The Nashville and Knoxville MSAs had the highest wage averages in the state last month. Knoxville’s was $982 a week. The Knoxville average was $940 – the same as the U.S. average. Tennessee’s average hourly wage was $25.47 in September.

Kingsport-Bristol’s average private sector wage was the lowest in the state while the Johnson City metro area from third from the bottom.