By DON FENLEY
TRI-CITIES, Tenn. – There’s good news and not-so-good news about the region’s labor market. So far this year, it’s continuing robust job creation. In fact, non-farm jobs are at a record high and the unemployment rate is at a record low.
The not-so-good news is nearly eight out of 10 of the jobs gained since March last year are in the weakest sectors for wages. That’s driving concerns about affordable and work-force housing.
It’s also a growing challenge to the region’s ability to attract and house middle-income workers, which includes police officers, firefighters, teachers, health care workers, retail clerks, and other service workers. That has become a concern because of the gentrification driven by the volume of new residents who are middle-class retirees and not part of the labor force.
Employers added 400 seasonally adjusted jobs in March and the region ended the first quarter with a record number of non-farm jobs. Since March last year, the area economy has 6,300 more jobs.
March’s employment was up 394 persons from February and up 713 from last year. There were 893 more people in the last force than last year, but 512 fewer than during February.
The unemployment rate is 3%. Many economists consider an unemployment rate of 5% or lower to be full employment.
The labor force participation rate in the region’s two largest counties is improving but still lags the national and state rates.
Sullivan Co.’s latest rate is 52.6%, up from a 51.2% low in November.
Washington Co.’s rate has increased to 57.4% from a low of 56.4% in December.
The current US rate is 62.4%. The Tenn. rate is 59.5%.
Since March last year, the region has 3,200 more jobs in the Leisure and Hospitality sector, 1,000 more government jobs and 700 more in Education and Healthcare Services.
Local governments accounted for most of the new government jobs. The average wage for local government workers is very close to the private sector average. Federal wages are higher. Currently, the average federal worker wage in the Johnson City metro area is 42% higher than the average private sector wage. In the Kingsport-Bristol metro area, it’s 30% higher.
The only two sectors with fewer jobs than this time last year are the Professional and Business Services and Retail sectors. The total loss from those sectors is 800 jobs.
According to the Jobs4TN website, there are 8,020 job openings in NE Tenn. The top five firms and number of open jobs for each are:
Ballad Health – 895.
Ingles Markets, Inc. 234.
Food City – 199.
ETSU – 142.
Tacala, LLC – 75.
Categories: LABOR MARKET
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