Tri-Cities job creation back on track, faces challenges

2-minute, 57-second read
The Tri-Cities September unemployment rate dropped to what it was before the pandemic, and the economy added 600 jobs. Unemployment claims were also down. That’s the good news. At the same time, drilling down on the data spotlights some challenges and illustrates just how much the local labor market and economy are resetting to a new norm.

Here are September’s numbers:

  • 600 seasonally adjusted new jobs were added.
  • The monthly average job gains rate is 278.
  • So far this year, the economy has added 2,500 new jobs.
  • The jobs total is 3,500 seasonally adjusted jobs below what it was in 2019 – the pre-pandemic year when the local labor market was almost recovered from the Great Recession losses.
  • The current unemployment rate is 3.4%, down 3% from Sept. last year and the same as in Sept. 2019.
  • There were 214,478 people employed, up 104 from August, down 6,276 from last year, and 6,285 fewer than Sept. 2019
  • September’s labor force was 222,450 people, down 1,473 from August, down 6,276 from last year, and down 6,518 from Sept. 2019.
  • There were 7,472 people listed as unemployed, down 1,577 from August, down by almost half from last year, and 550 fewer than the pre-pandemic year.
  • There were 9,383 open jobs advertised on Jobs4TN, up 197 from August. Open jobs have been in the 9,000 range since July. They were at a low point of 2,240 in April.
  • Ballad Health and Food City continue to have the most open jobs. The most current check at Jobs4TN shows Ballad advertising for 1,054 workers. Food City is looking for 327 new employees.

Month-over-month non-farm job creation and losses. Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary non-adjusted data

Wages, working conditions, and fear of COVID are listed as some of the drivers of the labor shortage and a surge in the number of people quitting their jobs.

Harvard’s Opportunity Insights reported that as of Aug. 10, high-wage employment ($60,000 and up) in Sullivan County is up 7.6%. Employment in low-wage jobs ($29,000 and below) is down 5.9%. That illustrates how some in the current recovery are doing very well while others are not sharing in the recovery.  Reports for the other local counties were not available on the Opportunity Insights website when this report was written.

According to an MIT study, the living wage for a single person in Sullivan Co. is $22,568. That’s based on a 35-hour workweek.  For a family with one child and both adults working, it’s $25,480 based on a 35-hour workweek.

The current Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages puts the average weekly private-sector wage was $27.14 an hour.

According to Economist Elliot Eisenberg, low-paid, mostly in-person roles accounted for the largest number of workers quitting last month. Current data on who’s quitting departures were driven by workers leaving accommodations and food services. That industry’s quit rate is 6.8% – double the average rate across all industries.  According to a Business Insider report, retail trade was also at a high with a 4.7% quit rate. The overall quit rate for Tennessee was 3.4%.

Am Indeed analysis on what jobs seekers are clicking on found interest in IT and media jobs is surging, “but no one wants to fill the sorely needed child care and home health” jobs that are open.

Indeed, a firm that tracks job seekers, also said interest in civil engineering and IT operations jobs has surged more than any other category since the pre-pandemic era. Postings for both types of jobs are netting 59% more clicks than they were during February 2020.

Media and communications jobs have seen an increase of 48%. And only 37% of the jobs advertised can be done from home.

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