2021 was a lack-luster year for Tri-Cities labor market

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Tri-Cities employers added 200 jobs in December and the November total was adjusted from a gain of 400 to no change. It was the lowest jobs growth report in a year that saw only four months of growth and plunging unemployment rates.


December’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.2%. Much of the jobless rate decline was driven by a declining labor force.

The local jobs report mirrored the national report, which saw the fewest number of jobs in any month last year. It was a major disappointment. Economists had forecast double the jobs growth that what the economy produced.

This is a trying time for consumers, workers, and employers. The economic recovery is booming. In fact, the latest report shows it’s growing at the fastest clip since the Regan Administration. But inflation is at a 40-year high, and the labor market is in shambles. Much of the buzz has been attempts to fix political blame for the situation, but neither the left nor the right bears the brunt of responsibility.

So far, the Tri-Cities jobs total has not recovered from the year before the Great Recession. Clicking on the chart renders a larger file.

Economist Elliot Eisenburg summed it up this way in his most current blog. “Inflation is usually a monetary phenomenon, and while the American Rescue Plan included huge dollars, it alone has not caused inflation. Rather, aggregate demand has been very strong, and supply chains have broken down. In time the private sector should fix the supply-chain problems, and demand should naturally return to trend. The labor market problems, punctuated by very high quit rates and large wage increases, are, however, more concerning.”

Although there will be some revision in the coming months jobs totals here’s how the 2021 local labor market plus-minus gains looked.


The Tri-Cities economy had 2,400 more jobs last year than in 2020. But there were 4,700 fewer jobs than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Here’s a sector breakdown where non-adjusted jobs increased or decreased from 2020 totals.

  • Construction – down 100
  • Manufacturing – up 1,200
  • Wholesale Trade – no change
  • Retail Trade – up 100
  • Transportation and Utilities – up 200
  • Information – no change
  • Financial Activities – no change
  • Professional Business Services – up 500
  • Education and Health Services – no change
  • Leisure and Hospitality – up 800
  • Other Services – up 400
  • Government – down 700

These numbers are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll report.


In December, employment was up 183 people from November and was up 3,549 over December last year. The number of employed people last year was up 4,996 from the 2020 annual average and down 6,244 from the pre-pandemic level.


There were 645 more people in the labor force than in November, but the total was down 2,244 from December last year. Last year’s annual average was up 903 and down 5,095 from the pre-pandemic average.

Much of the local labor market decline is being driven by early retirements – voluntary and forced – and a population that is rapidly aging out of the labor market. Back of the envelope calculations show that an average of about 62 Tri-Cities residents a day celebrate their 65th birthday. Current surveys of older workers show that fewer say they are planning to work past retirement age. Daycare issues have also contributed to more women staying home to care for children.


Continued claims (957) were at a four-week low for the week ending Jan. 22. The only county with an increase in continued claims was Hawkins, and that was only an increase of two.

There were 224 new claims. It was the fifth straight weekly decline. Hawkins (2), Unicoi (12), and Washington (47) counties saw more new claims than the previous week.


Johnson Co. had the highest regional labor force participation rate in December, while Unicoi Co. had the lowest. All the area counties had a lower rate than Tennessee or the nation.

Dec. 2021 and Dec. 2020

Carter – 51.2%, 52.7%

Greene – 49.8%, 53.4%

Hawkins – 49.8%, 52.3%

Johnson – 58.9%, 61.2%

Sullivan – 53.2%, 55.4%

Unicoi – 48.2%, 50.8%

Washington – 57%, 58.5%

Tennessee – 60.3%, 61.6%

U.S. – 61.9%, 63%


According to the Jobs4TN website, 3,453 jobs are being advertised in the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and 6,033 in the two counties of the Kingsport-Bristol MSA.

Labor market demand is rated as medium for both metro areas.

There are 4.7 candidates per job in the Johnson City metro area and 2.78 candidates per job in Kingsport-Bristol.

©2022 donfenley.com. All rights reserved.



Categories: LABOR MARKET

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