Report: Tri-Cities area suffers largest loss of jobs since 2009

Hank Hayes • Feb 26, 2014 at 11:32 PM

The Tri-Cities metro area suffered the largest job losses in last year’s fourth quarter since the recession year of 2009, according to a report released Wednesday by the East Tennessee State University Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Compared to the same period in 2012, regional job levels were lower by 2.6 percent to 224,023 positions, while unemployment rose 0.4 percent or 16,742 lost jobs.

The ETSU report noted employment has now declined for the past seven quarters, as the jobless rate for the Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area was 7 percent compared to 6.8 percent a year earlier.

“The annual data for 2013 reflect the growing weakness in the labor market,” according to the report. “The disparity between job losses and the small change in unemployment conditions is due to a large number of workers leaving the regional labor market.”

Job growth was led by leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, construction, and retail trade. Other services and government saw smaller employment gains.

Job losses occurred in information services, wholesale trade, finance and manufacturing, according to the report.

During 2013’s fourth quarter, employment was down 3.8 percent in Johnson City, 2.9 percent in Kingsport and 1.1 percent in Bristol. Jobless levels were higher in all three cities, pushing the unemployment rates to 6.7 percent in Kingsport, 7 percent in Johnson City and 7.1 percent in Bristol.

The national economy, however, continued to create new jobs during the fourth quarter, though at a slower pace. On a year-to-year basis, national employment grew 0.6 percent to 144.4 million workers, marking the 13th quarter in a row of overall growth.

“The annual data for 2013 reflect a generally good year — at least until the fourth quarter,” according to the report. “The annual jobless rate was 7.4 percent, compared to 8.1 percent in 2012. Overall, the national labor market still remains well below pre-recession levels and current full employment goals.”

Both the national and regional labor markets are now suffering declines in labor force size as discouraged job seekers drop out to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed, the report added.

“Some 8.4 million discouraged workers still remain out of the labor force due to the Great Recession,” the report pointed out. “If these long-term unemployed are added back into the labor force, the unemployment rate increases to 11.5 percent, compared to the 6.7 percent official rate. The ‘official’ unemployment rate is probably the most worthless statistic currently being provided by the federal government.”

The report concluded 2014’s remaining economic outlook has become more uncertain.

“The national economy, even if it returns to the slow growth path of the past two years, will still not be able to create jobs at a meaningful level,” the report observed. “Millions of workers will remain outside of the labor force and suffer the consequences of long-term unemployment. The Tri-Cities economy has been looking to growth in the U.S. economy to improve regional business activity. This might be a long wait.”

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