Income Plunges Again by 15 Percent in Tri-Cities

The Johnson City metro area, median household income dropped by more than 15 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the American Community Survey, which measured social, economic and housing data from 2009. The median household income for 2009 was $34,495, down from $40,643 in 2008. The last time median income hovered near $34,000 in Johnson City was 2004, ACS reports showed.

While the economy may have stopped its free fall, it has still plummeted so far the federal government has reset its definition of the poverty line for the first time in five decades. The 2009 poverty level was set at $21,954 for a family of four, down from $22,025 in 2008.

More than 21 percent of the Johnson City area lived below the poverty line in 2009, compared to 16.9 percent in 2008. Nationally, the poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people in 2009, the highest since 1994, the report showed. The percentage of Johnson City area residents receiving food stamps and SNAP benefits climbed to 16.7 percent in 2009, up from 10.7 percent in 2008.

Washington County's (Tennessee) food stamp office saw a 21 percent increase in the number of households using its services from December 2008 to the same month in 2009, according to numbers from the Tennessee Department of Human Services. (Johnson City Press October 6, 2010 extract.)

The worse part is Johnson City is better off than much of the rest of the region. They also just had another drive by shooting wounding a 19-year-old. Likely another drug deal gone sour. Yet while this is going on local leaders plan to spend $800 to help the Coffee and Tea Haven in Johnson City build an internet site. This is sure to drive millions of customers downtown as they flock Sara Delcher's coffee shop.

As an "excited" Sara says, "The nice thing about being able to go online is it will give me a broader audience."

Suzanne Kuehn, the Johnson City Development Authority executive director, is also upbeat about the little coffee shop: "We really need to expand their (business in general) customer base and the profitability of doing business in downtown Johnson City." So it's really not so profitable after all.

A similar scam went on in Virginia where the Virginia Tobacco Commission through a $200,000 grant paid $8000 per small business to help them put up websites. Over half the websites went to other non-profits getting government grants, one went to an individual selling metal cars out of a post office box, while another went a candy shop in Williamsburg and another to a used car lot as I recall. Guess they were excited too. The number of jobs created, the three people that got the grant and those jobs went away when the grant ran out.

Tri-Cities Labor Market Report East Tennessee State University - Third Quarter 2014

Employment levels still falling since 2009.

Existing labor market trends dominated the Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) in the third quarter. Compared to the same period in 2013, regional employment was lower by 1.7% to 218,244, while unemployment fell 10.3% to 16,664 as discouraged job seekers continued to leave the regional labor force. The summer unemployment rate for the metro area was 7.1% (compared to 7.7% a year earlier). With the labor force shrinking by 2.4%, the falling jobless rate is a sign of labor market weakness.

Among the twelve regional NAICS industry sectors, employment levels were higher in six, lower in six, and unchanged in none (compared to six, four, and two in the second quarter). Job growth was led by construction, professional & business services, other services, and education & health services. Smaller employment gains were reported by transport & utilities, and leisure & hospitality. Major job losses occurred in retail trade, government, and manufacturing. Small employment declines were reported by wholesale trade, information services, and financial services. Overall, the private sector in the metro area saw modest job growth.

During the July to September period, employment was lower in all three cities - falling 2.2% in Kingsport, 2.0% in Johnson City, and 1.2% in Bristol. Matching the regional pattern, large numbers of unemployed workers are exiting the labor market in each city. This has lowered the jobless counts, contracted the labor force, and reduced the unemployment rates. The percent of workers unemployed was 7.0% in Kingsport, 7.1% in Johnson City, and 7.1% in Bristol. As in the metro area, the lower rates in each city reflect labor market weakness.