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Census numbers unveil some red flags in JC MSA

By DON FENLEY • Oct 22, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Last year was a good year for the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area’s (MSA) economy. But a drill-down on the three-county metro area’s principal city shows some red flags of change from 2016 and patterns that don’t parallel with metro area booming economy data.

For example: while the region’s population was up, it declined in the city. The median household income declined, but the average family household income increased and nears the $100,000-a-year mark. It’s also noteworthy that full-time, year-round female workers got a big pay increase and made more money than their male counterparts, according to the recently released Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey.

From the MSA perspective, the real GDP (total economic output) of the MSA had its third straight year-over-year increase, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. And when you look at the same data for the four metro areas in Northeast Tennessee, Johnson City’s growth rate was second to Morristown and that the two smallest economies outperformed the much larger Knoxville and Kingsport-Bristol MSA economies. Despite the GDP growth of the Johnson City MSA in the past three years, it has not recovered to its pre-recession high. Since 2009, the metro area’s economy has declined by $20 million. But considering the metro area’s growth trend, $20 million is not a huge factor in a $6.1 billion economy. Those are real dollars adjusted for inflation – not current dollars.

The Johnson City MSA’s population grew by 3,013 in 2017. But the city saw a population drop of 1,160 people. The metro area’s 1.5 percent growth from 2016 was less than what the area had seen in previous years because its migration growth rate slowed. Migration is a big deal when it comes to population because the entire region has a negative natural population growth population. That simply means more people die than are born.

When you look at the working-age population (16 and older) the decline was much steeper than the overall population decline – 4.3 percent (2,419 people).

The city’s labor force participation rate dropped from 61.4 percent in 2016 to 60.7 percent in 2017. At the same time, there were 1,211 fewer people employed – a situation that carried over to the first half of this year when the Johnson City MSA was the only metro area in the state showing a jobs decline.

The median total household income was $35,700. That’s down $5,642 (13.6 percent) from 2016. At the same time, the average household income increased by 1.6 percent to $62,252

Last year’s median family household income was $55,951, down 4.2 percent ($2,440) from 2016. But the average family income increased 25.5 percent to $90,716.

The median earnings for workers was $22,229, down 6.3 percent ($1,500).

The median earnings for full-time male, year-round workers were $37,976, down 23.9 percent ($11,898)

The median earnings for full-time female, year-round workers were $39,255, up 10.2 percent ($3,643).

Don Fenley is a semi-retired journalist. For more check out his blog, Core Data, at www.donfenley.com.

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