900 fewer local jobs in Oct – unemployment rate at 30-month low

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The Tri-Cities unemployment rate dropped to a 30-month low of 3.2% in October. But there were 900 fewer jobs than during the previous month. It was also the third straight month local employment has declined. And there were 9,564 open jobs while continued unemployment claims hit a five-week high.

Consumers are spending, local gas prices are below $3 a gallon, and area home prices are at record highs. The regional economy shows broad-based signs of getting stronger as we approach a new year. But inflation has raised its ugly head imposing higher prices at grocery stores and other retailers.  And social service agencies report an increasing need for those who are not included in the recovery.

There’s no doubt a recovery is underway. But it’s not your father’s recovery or economy, for that matter. The bottom line is there’s yet another new normal on the horizon. One with fewer traditional jobs, an older population. One with great opportunities for some and great challenges for others.


The only sectors adding jobs last month were government and professional and business services. The government gains came in the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Professional and business service increases were in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA.

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Sectors that lost jobs from the previous month were construction, manufacturing and leisure, and hospitality. And there’s a surge in Kingsport-Bristol new home construction, the number of construction jobs is down 600 from October 2019. That’s the last year we had a “normal” economy.

The jobs recovery has been strongest in the professional and business sector. They’re up 1,700 from the pre-pandemic benchmark. That squares with reports that show employment and wages for “good jobs” are up almost 7% while the number of low-wage jobs is down about 6%.


So far this year, the economy has about 2,500 more jobs than it did during the first 10 months of last year when the pandemic was ravaging the economy. It’s a tepid recovery. Compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark, the region is down 5,200 jobs. Experts say many – like those in restaurants and retail – may not come back.

Leisure and hospital jobs are the most visible sign of the big labor market loss compared to the pre-pandemic economy. Last month the loss total was 1,600 jobs. But that’s not where the most local jobs have vanished. That dubious distinction goes to government jobs. They’re down 2,600 from the pre-pandemic benchmark.

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Education and health services complete the triad of major job losses. It’s down 1,400 jobs.

Reasons for this tepid recovery include the second surge of COVID-19, the Great Resignation, a supply chain crisis, and a rapidly aging demographic.

Back of the envelope calculations show about 21 local residents turn 65 every day. Another 33 celebrate their 75th birthday. The area labor force participation rate is almost 10 points lower than the national average. And national and local officials are puzzling why adults in the 25 to 54 age group are not re-engaging in the labor market as they have in the past.


According to the Jobs4TN website, there were 9,564 open jobs when this article was written. That hasn’t changed much in the past three months when the area total went above 9,000 for the first time this year. Here are the employers at the top of the list for open jobs and the number of open positions.

Johnson City MSA

  • Ballad Health – 416
  • ETSU – 114
  • Food City – 90
  • State of Franklin Healthcare Associates – 48

Kingsport-Bristol MSA

  • Ballad Health – 610
  • Eastman Chemical – 215
  • Food City – 200
  • McDonald’s – 146




Categories: LABOR MARKET

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