Tri-Cities jobs market adds jobs, still struggling

Nonfarm payroll jobs increased by 2,800 in August, and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.3% as the Tri-Cities’ labor market began moving out of the summer seasonal slump.

The market has clawed back 3,900 of the 19,000 jobs lost in April when COVID-19 shut down much of the economy. At the same time, the month-over-month churn of job gains and losses from the current recession has not stabilized. Unlike the housing market’s sharp rebound and “V” recovery, the labor market and economic recovery are being called a “K” recovery because jobs at the higher end of the market are recovering better than those at the lower end.

According to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Tennessee jobs that paid $27,000 or less a year are down 10.3% compared to January. Jobs that pay $27,000 to $60,000 are down 1.1%, and jobs that paid $60,000 or more were up 1%. Professional jobs are down 7%, Education and Health Services are up 1.4%, Retail is down 8.8% and Leisure and Hospitality is down 9.1%.

August’s 2,800 gain is the preliminary, non-adjusted number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) payroll report. The seasonally adjusted number from that report shows an August-July loss of 400 jobs. Employment was up 12,446 people, and the labor force gained a little over 10,000 according to the BLS’s household report – which is used to calculate the unemployment rate.

Hiring in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities; and Government job sectors led August’s payroll jobs gains from July.  Most of that comes from the start of school and the end of the traditional summer seasonal jobs slump. The typical pattern is for the market to add jobs through the holiday season.

April – August market performance

The market still has a 6,300 payroll jobs deficit from April.

Since the April layoffs, the Leisure and Hospitality sector, which led the region in job losses, has seen more call-backs and hires. Trade, Transportation and Utilities regained 1,700 more jobs from April. Other Services and the Professional and Business Service sectors accounted for 1,700 gains. The Government and Information sectors are the only two with fewer jobs in August than April.

August’s employment count was up 17,380 from April, and there were 3,916 more people in the labor force.

Aug. 2020 – 2019 jobs comparison

The payroll jobs total is down by 11,500, employment is down 11,160, and there are 3,286 fewer people in the labor force.

When the pandemic hit, the local labor market had almost recovered from the Great Recession. Economists expect the U.S. labor market will take a year to a year and a half to recover.


August’s 7.3% unemployment rate has declined every month since hitting 13.5% in April. Before then, it was in the lower 4% to high 3% range.

The preliminary, non-adjusted number of workers listed unemployed in August was 16,437, down 2,266 from July and 7,874 more than August last year.

New claims for unemployment have been steadily declining, but according to a State Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had a higher job loss than the rest of the state. A WJHL story on the report said Northeast Tennessee had a higher job loss rate during the past year than the state or the nation.  The local loss rate was 13.4% compared to the U.S. 8.7% rate and Tennessee’s 12.3% rate.

The rapid aging of the local labor force and the number of buyouts and early retirements as local companies pursued ways to reduce labor costs have probably disproportionally added to the loss rate. There’s another less talked about factor also at play. The Tri-Cities low cost of living makes it easier for individuals to drop out of the labor force.

Unemployment benefits

Local residents who received unemployment benefits are once again required to complete weekly work searches certifications beginning  Oct. 4.

This means that individuals who plan to file their weekly certification for Oct. 4 will need to start work search activities the week of Sept. 27, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Weekly Wage

The average weekly wage for private-sector workers in the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was $651.76 in August. That’s a high for the year, but $29 a week less than what it was August last year.

The MSA includes Cater, Washington, and Unicoi counties.

Private sector workers in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA had a weekly average wage of $698.46. It was also a high for the year, and $64.46 higher than August last year.

The Kingsport-Bristol MSA includes Hawkins and Sullivan counties in NE Tenn. and Scott and Washington counties in SW Va.

August’s statewide private sector weekly wage average was $902.10. The Tri-Cities ranks at the bottom of the list of state MSAs for private-sector wages. The monthly BLS numbers do not include bonuses, and the total wages are higher when government sector wages are added to the mix.




Categories: LABOR MARKET

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