Tri-Cities jobs pass pre-recession mark; growth still lags area markets

Last updated Feb. 8, 2020

The Tri-Cities labor market ended 2019 with more nonfarm jobs than it had in 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy. The gain was almost 1,900 jobs from the pre-recession benchmark, according to annualized Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) December Payroll Report data. Those numbers are not adjusted for inflation. They’re also preliminary. So, there will be adjustments as BLS gets more data.

Employment reported by the BLS Household Report was also good news. The number of people employed last year was a seven-year high. And, the labor force posted its sixth straight annual gain. But unlike the jobs number, employment and the labor force still lag previous highs. The employment count is 7,461 fewer people with jobs, and the labor force has declined by 16,795 people since 2011. A rapidly aging demographic and stagnant population growth account for much of that loss. And given current conditions, the employment and labor force pre-recession benchmarks are likely unattainable.

Job creation, employment, and the labor market took off in the second quarter of last year and continued to year-end. Employers added an average of 46 new jobs a month putting the annual net jobs gain at 550. That’s 50 more than it was in 2018.

The trend is a year-over-year comparison of the 12-month moving average of employment, labor force and nonfarm job totals reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Comparing the Tri-Cities job and employment performance to its neighbors takes some of the luster off last year’s gains. The seven-county region continues to lag the economic performance of the Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Asheville markets. In fact, Asheville is on a job growth trajectory that will see it surpass the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol TN VA market if conditions continue at their current pace.  Here’s what the 2010-2019 job gain for the area markets looks like:

Asheville – 21.8%

Chattanooga/Cleveland – 17.4%

Knoxville/Morristown – 13.8%

Johnson City/Kingsport/Bristol – 5.5%

Those gains are for the Consolidated Statistical Areas (CSA) for all but the Asheville market. The BLS Payroll Report does not include county or Micropolitan Statistical Areas, so the Asheville jobs notation is minus data from Transylvania County.

An employment comparison of the same areas follows a decades-old pattern. While the other areas are growing, the Tri-Cities region continues to lag behind. Unlike the BLS’s Payroll Report, the Household Survey does include CSA level data. Here’s the 2010-2019 employment growth for the NE Tenn. areas. .

Asheville-Bevard – 33.1%

Chattanooga/Cleveland – 11.7%

Knoxville/Morristown – 11.9%

Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol – 4.1%

The Johnson City – Kingsport – Bristol CSA includes Carter, Unicoi, Washington, Hawkins and Sullivan counties in NE Tenn. and Scott and Washington counties in SW VA.

All of the data used for the charts is preliminary and no-seasonally adjusted. Since its preliminary expect revisions as the BLS compiles more data and issues the final annual reports.



Categories: LABOR MARKET