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2015 brings job growth for Tri-Cities

Nathan Baker • Feb 18, 2016 at 5:28 PM

The Tri-Cities ended the year with the best labor market growth since the Great Recession, according to East Tennessee State University economist Steb Hipple.

In each of the final three quarters of the year, Hipple’s analysis of the Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show year-over-year gains in the labor force and employment levels and a drop in the unemployment rate for the Tri-Cities metropolitan area.

The household survey shows the area’s labor force at 229,474 for 2015, a 1 percent gain over 2014; the employment level at 215,895, a 1.8 percent increase; and unemployment at 5.9 percent, a drop of 10.4 percent over the previous year. That annual jobless rate was the lowest level since 2008.

According to Hipple’s report, all three cities posted employment gains last year, 2.3 percent in Johnson City, 2 percent in Kingsport and 1.2 percent in Bristol. The lowest unemployment rate was Bristol’s at 5.5 percent, followed by Kingsport and Johnson City at 6 percent.

The BLS’s Current Employment Survey, which Hipple considers more reliable, showed payroll employment rising to 204,733, an increase of 1.5 percent over 2014.

The CES also showed employment higher in seven of the 12 monitored industry sectors: retail trade, leisure & hospitality, professional & business services, government, wholesale trade, transport & utilities and education & health services. Jobs declined in manufacturing, information services and other services, and did not change in financial services and construction.

“Overall, current labor market conditions are the best since the Great Recession of 2008-09,” Hipple writes, before noting that, on the downside, the American economy has not created jobs quickly enough to keep up with the estimated 1-percent population growth rate since 2007.

Historically, the CES shows continuous job growth since 2010, but regional employment in 2015 was still 1,417 behind the peak in 2008. The CPS, which hasn’t followed the trends of other economic markers regionally, put the area 20,208 jobs behind a peak in 2007.

Hipple said he expects the growth trends to continue.

“The Tri-Cities area is now clearly a part of the national business expansion, and as long as the U.S. economy grows, the regional economy will prosper,” he said. “And higher local incomes will provide the basis for continued growth in retail activity.”

Email Nathan Baker at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jcpressbaker or on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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