Tri-Cities labor market enters seasonal slump on positive footing

The Tri-Cities labor market entered its seasonal three-month slump with the loss of 300 nonfarm jobs. At the same time, the number of people employed increased by 363 and the unemployment rate increased to 3.4%. That’s a pretty good labor market snapshot when you look at this year’s trend line compared to previous years.

Bureau of Labor Statistics nonadjusted preliminary data shows 205,400 nonfarm jobs in the seven-county region last month. And while that fewer than there were in April the more important data point is there were 1,800 more than May last year. It’s also noteworthy that May was the fourth straight month when there were more jobs than there were the same months in 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy. If the jobs market keeps on going like it is 2019 could be the year when it claims recovery from the recession.

So far this year employers have been adding an average of 40 new nonfarm jobs a month. The region finished last year with a 700-job deficit from the pre-recession benchmark.

So far, this employment is trending high and has posted some strong gains. Employment typically ebbs lower during the seasonal slump, but that’s not the case this year. The preliminary numbers show employment has been increasing at the average rate of 1,613 a month so far this year. Last year the employment growth rate average was 132 a month.  May’s total was better than April and 7,287 better than May last year. But that’s where the good news end. Compared to the pre-recession high, May’s employment was down 9,398 people.

Nonfarm jobs recovery has already been firmed up in the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Its jobs total has been above the pre-recession benchmark every year, which has been enough to balance the jobs growth struggle in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA where the job total was even with May’s pre-recession benchmark but the January through April totals were still in the red-ink column.

Two Johnson City labor sectors – Professional and Business Services and Hospitality – added jobs last month while the Government sector cut 1,000 jobs. The other sectors were unchanged from April totals.

Five sectors in Kingsport-Bristol added jobs last month. Those sectors included: Construction; Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Professional and Business Services; Other Services; and Government. Education and Health Services was the only sector showing a job loss from April.

Here’s how May’s unemployment rates look for the region:

Tri-Cities  Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) – 3.4%

Knoxville CSA – 2.9%

Chattanooga CSA – 3.3%

Johnson City MSA – 3.5%

Kingsport-Bristol MSA – 3.4%

Morristown MSA – 3.5%

Greeneville Micropolitan Statistical Area – 3.8%

Carter Co. – 3.8%

Greene Co. – 3.8%

Hawkins Co. – 3.6%

Johnson Co. – 3.1%

Sullivan Co. 3.4%

Unicoi Co. 4.5%

Washington Co.  3.2%

Bristol – 3.5%

Johnson City – 3.2%

Kingsport – 3.5%

Tennessee – 3.6%

U.S. – 3.3%

The national U6 unemployment report which includes marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons was 7.3%, unchanged from April. You have to go back to 2000 to find a month where the U6 was lower than it was in May. The lowest it has been this decade was 6.8% in October 2008.

William County has the lowest unemployment rate in Tennessee in May – 2.2%. Davidson County wasn’t far behind at 2.3%.  Knox County has the lowest rate in the Tri-Cities – 2.7%.

Clay County has the highest May rate – 5.4%.

Nonfarm jobs trend based on 12-month moving average. The red line marks the period when the Great Recession hit the local economy.