March reports will add context to local economic recovery

Seasonally adjusted 2021 jobs totals lag pre-pandemic levels in all but one East Tennessee metro area.

A flurry of labor market reports this month will provide a little better understanding of just where the Tri-Cities’ economic recovery stands. So far, a red-hot housing market and consumer spending have done most of the heavy lifting.

Employment and labor force totals have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

December’s state sales tax collection is a good example. Non-adjusted collections in the Johnson City metro area were 19.6%. They were up 21.3% in Kingsport-Bristol.

Two Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports will be released beginning next week. They will include the Jan. and Feb. labor market reports and the first annual adjustment for the 2021 jobs market. So far, the monthly adjustments have been mixed.

The December preliminary reports show Knoxville is the only East Tennessee Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) that closed the year with more nonfarm jobs than the annual per-pandemic average. And that was only a 0.01% jobs gain.

The employment picture presented by the BLS report used to determine the headline unemployment rate shows across the board declines in the number of people employed and those in the labor force.

The difference between the two reports is the payroll or jobs report is a survey of 145,000 businesses and government agencies. The data is available as seasonally adjusted or non-adjusted. The previous month’s data is revised each month as additional data becomes available, and there is an annual adjustment. Its base is the MSA level.

The household report is a survey of 60,000 U.S. households used to estimate the number of people who have a job, the labor force, and those looking for a job. Those estimates are available for cities of 25,000 and up. While it estimated the number of people who work at least one hour a week, the jobs are not based on where they live. In other words, employment for a person who lives in Johnson City but works in Bristol is credited to Johnson City.

A more current labor market metric presents a little more encouraging picture. NE Tenn. claims for unemployment have been trending lower for six straight weeks. For the weekend ending Feb. 19 there were 798 continuing claims and 103 new claims. Both are down from the previous week. The only area county with an increase in claims is Carter. It had two more continuing claims than the previous week.


The current Jobs4TN website says there are 3,480 job openings in the Johnson City MSA. The top five firms with openings are:

  • Ballad Health – 419
  • ETSU – 149
  • Food City – 84
  • BWX Technologies – 44
  • State of Franklin Healthcare – 42

The website says there are 6,195 job openings in the Tennessee part of the Kingsport-Bristol MSA. The top five firms with openings are:

  • Ballad Health – 603
  • Food City – 202
  • Eastman Chemical Co. – 184
  • McDonald’s Corp. – 170
  • Hard Rock Café International – 91

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