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Don Fenley

The Tri-Cities labor market appears to be shaking off a tepid close to 2020 and the beginning of the new year. February’s local labor market reports, and the most current unemployment claims, paint a picture of a rebound.

There were 1,700 more jobs than during January.

The unemployment rate dropped half a point.

There were a little over 5,000 job openings being advertised.

Unemployment claims were down for the third time for the week ending March 27.

If local conditions follow the March national market’s performance, the glass will look more than half full and firming up the soft spot that began October last year. The March local data will be available the last week of April.

That’s the month-over-month story, and part of it can be attributed to the Biden administration keeping its foot on the stimulus gas pedal and the economy beginning to open up. The year-to-year numbers are not that pretty since they show the COVID damage and the continuing effect of the area’s rapidly aging population.

There were 8,500 fewer jobs than in February last year.

There were 7,156 fewer people employed.

The labor force is down 5,531 people.

The labor force participation rate is below the U.S. rate by about 5 to 8 points. The national average is a little over 61%.

It took a decade to recover the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

The Great Restructuring from a manufacturing-based jobs market to a service-education-health care economy was also a big part of that lackluster job performance. Economists predict the national labor market will recover what was lost in the COVID recession sometime next year if the current conditions continue.

Local employers have clawed back 10,500 of the 19,500 jobs lost when the economy crashed in April last year.

If all 5,000 of the jobs currently advertised were filled, there would still be a deficit of 4,000 jobs, and the current aging rate would account for about half of that.

Meanwhile, the Tri-Cities economy is poised for a hiring spree. Stronger growth should return jobs to industries that were heaviest hit during the pandemic, such as retail stores, restaurants and support jobs. Add state and local government jobs to that list.

The most current Jobs4TN data show 5,256 open jobs advertised in the Tri-Cities region. They are listed by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Debate about why more people are not working ranges from too much stimulus from Washington and the region’s high opioid addiction rate.

JOHNSON CITY MSA

The job demand for the three-county area is listed as “medium” by the labor department. The top of the list ranked by the number of open jobs is:

• Food City — 102

• ETSU — 81

• Ballad — 50

• Frontier Health — 36

• State of Franklin Healthcare — 34

The Johnson City MSA includes Carter, Washington, and Unicoi counties.

KINGSPORT-BRISTOL

The demand in the two Tennessee counties of the Kingsport-Bristol MSA is also listed as the “medium.” The number of open jobs is 3,223. The top of the list ranked by the number of open jobs is:

• Food City — 211

• Ballad — 112

• Eastman — 82

• McDonald’s — 70

• CVS Health — 62.

The two Tennessee counties in the MSA are Hawkins and Sullivan. Comparable data for the two Southwest Virginia counties — Scott and Washington — was not available.

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