According to the most recent statistics from the First Tennessee Development District, about 18 percent of people in the Tri-Cities are living in poverty. While the cost of living is relatively cheap in Northeast Tennessee – with a median house price of about $153,000 and median rent of $680 – the income per capita stands at about $37,000 per year compared to over $43,000 throughout the state.
In June 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam said the state’s unemployment numbers went down to 3.6 percent, which officials said was the state’s best figure since 1976. But this still leaves the question of what it’s like to be underemployed.
When it comes to underemployment, many millennials know the name of the game – low wages and little to no benefits.
At Tuesday’s Career Expo, held at Johnson City’s Holiday Inn, young people from across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia were looking for a way off the proverbial treadmill of low-wage work.
Tiffany Strouth, 24, was most recently employed with Mountain Connections in Weber City, Virginia, but she said she was looking for work in Northeast Tennessee to help adequately provide for her child. After a string of low-wage jobs and long hours, she said the pay there just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
“It’s constantly working like crazy and not having any downtime with your family or anything; you spend all your time working and you don’t have time to enjoy yourself,” Strouth said of previous employment.
“It still keeps you in poverty, pretty much. I have a four-year-old, and it’s so hard to make ends meet,” she added.
Strouth did, however, find some luck after landing an interview with Brock Services, one of over two dozen regional employers present at the expo.
After scheduling an interview for a janitorial position with the company, Strouth was feeling more optimistic.
“It’s going well, actually. I have an interview set up with Brock for Thursday,” she said.
Justin Long, also 24, was doing his best to stay optimistic. He said he was looking for more business experience after completing his major in business administration.
“I’ve been looking at a few places like Eastman and some other temp places to get my foot in the door and give me a starting place so I can build a career,” Long said. “It’s not going too bad so far. I’m hoping it keeps getting better and better.”
After also finding himself in and out of the low-wage job market, Long said he’s just trying to move forward and find something better.
“It’s not the best, but at least it allows you to get more experience and be more presentable to the larger corporations,” he said.