2018 wages increase 4% in Kingsport-Bristol, 1.9% in Johnson City


Kingsport- Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) workers saw an average 4% wage hike in 2018, according to the recently released Quarterly Census of Employment of Wages (QCEW). The same report shows Johnson City MSA workers go an average 1.9% increase. Adjust those percentages for last year’s inflation and the pay hike in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol area was 2.1% while the three-county Johnson City average dropped to 0.8%.

These increases are not adjusted for inflation.

The Tri-Cities has a reputation for low wages, and the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics’ average metro area wage estimates bear witness to and to a degree exaggerates it.  Kingsport-Bristol and Johnson City are typically at or just above the bottom of state metro areas in the monthly average private sector earnings estimates. But a different picture emerges when you switch to QCEW reports, which trail the reporting period by about six months.

Annual average county weekly wage from the QCEW report. The averages are not adjusted for inflation.

The difference is the monthly wage estimate is a representative sample of about 689,000 worksites nationwide.  And it doesn’t include things like bonuses or overtime.  It’s the same report used for the monthly unemployment rates.  The QCEW is an aggregate of the gross wages and number of employees from about 10 million employers.

When you compare the 2018 annual QCEW average weekly average wages for private sector workers, the three governmental sectors and the total employer sectors, you see federal and state employees are at the top of the pay pyramid. That dovetails with the often-cited lament that Johnson City has a bigger economic advantage due to its government payroll.

But when you drill down to the actual number of government employees, they’re about the same for the Tri-Cities’ two metro areas. According to the May BLS report, there were 16,400 government workers in the three-county Johnson City MSA last year and 16,100 in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA. That’s not an unusual annual mix. While it varies from month-to-month the BLS Employment At a Glance Report shows government is the third largest employer in the Tri-Cities. It falls just behind Education and Health Care Services and slightly above Manufacturing. It’s also a factor that helped insulate the local labor market from the full effects of last recessions.

A more detailed drill down shows the difference is Johnson City has a lot more federal employees and Kingsport-Bristol has more local employees.

Here’s how many government workers are accounted for by the May BLS report:

Johnson City MSA

Total government workers – 16,400

Federal workers – 2,900

State government – 5,800

Local government – 7,700

Kingsport-Bristol MSA

Total government workers – 16,100

Federal workers – 900

State government – 2,400

Local government – 12,800

The wage drill down also illustrates that not all government workers are the same when it comes to who gets how much.

Federal workers have the highest average wage in both metro areas. State workers are the next best paid.

Local government workers and private sector employees are fairly close matches in the Johnson City MSA, but their average lags the private sector average by $155 a week in Kingsport-Bristol. Remember these are preliminary numbers and will be revised.

When it comes to pay raises Kingsport-Bristol federal workers, and private sector workers got the larger annual increase in the region.

Later this year, the American Community Survey will offer another look at per capita and average full-time workers wages along with household and family incomes.

 

 

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