Reports show Feb. Tri-Cities jobs, employment trends increasing

Nonfarm jobs made a seasonal February bounce driving the 2019 Tri-Cities jobs growth trend rate higher. Employment for the seven-county region was also higher and unemployment rates dropped.

Preliminary non-adjusted monthly totals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the Tri-Cities had 203,600 nonfarm jobs in February. That’s 2,600 more than February last year and 700 more than the pre-recession benchmark. February’s non-adjusted numbers are typically a big bounce from January, and they will be adjusted in the March report.

The employment report shows 242,200 people were working. That’s a 3,248-person improvement from February last year and 4,882 fewer than the pre-recession high.

A noteworthy point in February’s report is the three-county Johnson City MSA’s monthly total is above the pre-recession benchmark for the second straight month. Johnson City’s 2018 annual total was better than the pre-recession benchmark for the second year. February’s total was 1,400 jobs the benchmark and 400 better than February so unless the adjustment is a big one the lower half of the region has a firm foothold on a labor-market recovery status.

Kingsport-Bristol has been chipping away at the precession level. It finished 2018 with an annual gain of 100 jobs but was 1,600 jobs below the 2008 annual total. February’s total was 700 shy of the benchmark and 1,600 better than February last year.

February’s unemployment rate across the region and the state declined. “It is encouraging when unemployment rates drop in every county across the state,” Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said. He’s right, but there’s a caveat about looking at just the unemployment rate. ETSU Economists Steb Hipple once chided it as one of the most useless pieces of data produced by the federal government. That jab came when the unemployment figures were telling one version of the labor market story, and the jobs report was telling an opposite story. That happens sometimes, and when it does it’s best to rely on the jobs report since it is the larger sample and the most reliable metric. But almost all media, civic and government officials use the U3 unemployment report as a primary labor market indicator. In reality, it isn’t.

The best way to look at the labor market is by balancing the unemployment report, and the jobs report. Both have strengths and weaknesses.

The household report is a survey based on 60,000 households across the nation. From that sample, the unemployment rate (U3 report) is estimated for cities above 20,000 population, counties, MSA and the nation.  To be classified as unemployed a person has been available for and looking for work four weeks before each monthly survey. The survey also doesn’t differentiate between full-time and part-time work. For example, a part-timer who works two hours a day counts the same as a full-time worker. The household survey also doesn’t where a person works. A Johnson City resident with a full-time job in Bristol is counted as employed in Johnson City. The U4, U5, and U6 reports present data a little differently, but they are not broken down to the local level, and only the U6 report gets much public attention.

The payroll survey goes to private and government employers to estimate the total number of workers on nonfarm jobs, their hourly wage and the number of hours worked. It covers about 30% of all U.S. workers and estimates the rest. The BLS revises the monthly estimates as it gets better data and those revisions can make big changes from the preliminary numbers. Once a year another revision is made for the annual report.

The payroll report frequently finds fewer jobs than the number of people employed in the household report because someone working two jobs is counted once in the payroll study but twice in the employment report. And self-employed people are counted in the household survey, but not the payroll report.

The local labor market is heavily saturated by part-time workers and the region has a chronic, structural underemployment issue. In the most current American Community Survey of people who had worked in the past 12 months 22% (about 92,000 people), Tri-Cities residents said they worked less than full-time. The labor market is also influenced the current trade disputes. That’s why Eastman has given the community a heads up that the trade dispute with China would result in some layoffs this year. The underemployment issue is the focus of post-primary school tech and technical training; however, structural problems typically take years to resolve.

Currently, both reports are telling the same labor market story – jobs and employment are increasing.

Here are February’s regional unemployment rates:

Tri-Cities – 3.6%.

Johnson City MSA – 3.5%

Carter Co. – 3.8%

Unicoi Co. – 5.1%

Washington Co. – 3.1%

Kingsport-Bristol MSA – 3.6%

Hawkins Co. – 3.6%

Sullivan Co. – 3.5%

Virginia portion of Kingsport-Bristol –  3.8%

Greene Co. 4.4%

Hancock Co. 5.8%

Johnson Co. 3.6%

Tennessee’s February jobless rate was 3.2%. The U.S. rate was 3.8%.

The U.S. U6 report, which counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (that’s what the U3 rate used by the media and government concerns) but also counts marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons was 7.3% in February. The last time it was in those ranges was in the year 2000.


Kingsport-Bristol sees big increase in older renters, decline among the younger set; Johnson City maintains status quo

Demographics here in the Tri-Cities look quite a bit different than they did a decade ago. The region – like the nation – is rapidly aging. The most current Census estimates show over 25% of the current area population is 60 or older.

As this trend progresses, it will affect almost all aspects of the local, regional and national economy, businesses and government services. Housing is not an exception. During the decade ending in 2017, the number of elders who rent has increased by 36.3% in the Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) while it has decreased by 3.5% in the Johnson City MSA.

That doesn’t mean homeownership doesn’t dominate the area housing market. The most current Census estimates show 29.5% of the households in the Johnson City MSA are renter-occupied – 27.5% in Kingsport-Bristol. But there is a notable demographic shift occurring that affects the housing industry.

While the number of renters who are 60 years old and older has increased in Kingsport-Bristol the number of renters 25-59 has decreased by 3.5%. That shift isn’t seen in the Johnson City MSA where the number of younger renters has increased 4.3% in the last 10 years compared to the 4.5% increase for elder renters.

Them seems to point to increased opportunities for multi-family investors who are syncing with the aging trend. Discussions with property managers in Kingsport show the same results of the Census data. One large complex has an estimated 30% occupancy of retired people. But while there is some pointed competition among Kingsport apartment complexes it hasn’t focused on the aging demographic, yet. The counterpoint is the city of Kingsport’s subsidy of a major downtown luxury complex intended to attract the same age group of renters that Census data shows is declining. City officials have said they think the Town Park Lofts will attract younger professionals from other areas. Increasing accommodations with amenities targeted to a younger clientele make sense on the surface, but it’s too early to see how well that plan works or if it’s sustainable. Meanwhile, the complex reportedly recently changed hands. Bankers, property managers, and real estate professionals talk about it, but both the original firm and the reported new owner are have not responded to requests for comment.

Homeownership among the 25-to-59-year-old age group in both metro areas has also declined during the past decade. It’s down 3.5% in the Johnson City MSA and 15.8% in Kingsport-Bristol. At the same time, homeownership of the 60 plus group has increased by 26.9% in the Johnson City metro area and 21% in Kingsport-Bristol.

The opportunities and demands imposed on the housing industry by the changing dramatic are expected to increase. The youngest Baby Boomers will be 55 this year. The oldest of that generation is now in their early 70s. Broad answers to how the housing market, the business community, and governments will adapt to these demands haven’t been a mass media or civic discussion, yet.

Look for the demand for more in-home health care to increase across the spectrum from full and part-time helpers to things like meal delivery to security checks. At the same time, the need for full-time care facilities will increase.

Law enforcement officials are also aware that the frequency of elder abuse and fraud has increased.

A recent Kiplinger report said it’s estimated that $37 billion is stolen every year by scammers targeting the elderly each year. It varies from elders with cognitive decline to savvy investors. On average 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. Locally the number is about 25 a day, and self-directed accounts leave many more vulnerable.

Thieves are both strangers and trusted people as evidenced by the number of reports about relatives, caregivers and investment advisers taking advantage. The Senior Save Act that was passed in 2018 allows bank employees to report suspected cases of elder financial abuse to authorities without fear of being sued and some state has increased elder fraud to felony status, according to Kiplinger.

Experts look more help from technology from the financial industry, but like physical abuse – it will be a tough crime to contain.

The list of businesses and services the demographic change will touch is almost limitless.



Report shows Tri-Cities had a net nonfarm jobs growth of 500 in 2018

January’s preliminary labor market reports show the Tri-Cities had a little more than 4,000 more nonfarm jobs than it did in January last year.

The same report shows the seven-county region’s labor market had a nonfarm job gain of 500 last year from the 2017 annual average.

January’s report puts the annual average Johnson City nonfarm total at 80,700, up 400 from 2017. It lists the preliminary Kingsport-Bristol annual average as 123,000, up 100 from 2017.

Another set of adjustments – for the January preliminary monthly numbers – are due week after next in the February jobs report.

Benchmarking the annual nonfarm job totals against pre-recession highs show the Johnson City labor market has recovered from the Great Recession while Kingsport-Bristol is still struggling.

Last year the Johnson City MSA had 800 more jobs than it did in 2008, the year before the Great Recession hit the local labor market.

Kingsport-Bristol had 1,700 fewer jobs than it did in 2008.

January’s unemployment rates were:

Tri-Cities – 4%.

Johnson City MSA – 4.1%.

Kingsport-Bristol 4%

Carter Co. – 4.6%

Greene Co. – 5.2%

Hawkins Co. – 4.2%

Johnson Co. – 4.1%

Sullivan Co. – 4%

Unicoi Co. – 5.8%

Bristol TN – 3%

Johnson City – 3.5%

Kingsport – 4.2%

Johnson City – 3.7%


Tri-Cities sales tax collections off to a slow start

Tri-Cities governments got off to a slow sales tax collection start in January. They were two of the three Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) with negative year-over-year performance for the first month of the year.

Here’s how NE Tenn. metro area looked in the updated report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations with the MTSU Department of Economics and Finance:

Knoxville, up 2.8%

Morristown, up 0.6%

Johnson City, down 0.2%

Kingsport-Bristol, down 0.5%

NE Tennessee, up 1.8%

Statewide collections were up 4.2%.

Seasonally adjusted market share of sales tax collections in Northeast Tennessee

Nine of the state’s 10 MSAs showed a decrease from their December totals while Morristown’s collections were unchanged.

January’s seasonally adjusted collections for the three-county Johnson City MSA were $15.1 million and $16.4 million for Kingsport-Bristol.


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