Here's a local economic indicator we should probably watch more closely — especially as we discuss what to do about affordable housing and income inequality. Nashville-area seasonally adjusted average hourly earnings, as compiled here by MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center, have basically circled $23 for the past year and a half. And for the past five months, they've been below year-earlier levels, the longest such streak since the spring of 2013. This has happened as the average number of hours worked weekly also have dipped since early 2014.
It could be that the current downswing is nothing more than a cyclical breather after last year's pretty steep increases, when year-over-year increases topped 5 percent for seven straight months. But if it's a structural issue, it could point to an oversupply of labor — thanks to all our new friends moving here, perhaps? — or a potentially troubling reticence from many local employers to commit to raises because of concerns about their growth prospects in the coming year and beyond.
Here's the chart showing the year-over-year increases going back to the beginning of 2012.
Slowdowns in the growth of Middle Tennessee's largest job grouping as well as in the important manufacturing sector pushed year-over-year employment growth below 3 percent in August, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The professional and business services sector, which accounts for 15 percent of all Nashville-area jobs, grew by just 1.8 percent in August — its smallest number since June of last year. Meanwhile, job growth in the area's auto-heavy manufacturing industry slowed to 2.4 percent while the information and finance sectors went a little deeper into the red year over year. Offsetting some of those negative developments were strong months from the big leisure and education/health sectors.
After a few subpar spring months, Nashville's job growth has been powering through the summer. June and July's growth of 3.7 and 3.6 percent was the strongest two-month since last August and September and was driven primarily by hiring surges in the important retail and leisure/hospitality sectors. And for the sixth time in nine months, area construction companies employed at least 10 percent more people than they did a year ago.
So we can't point to the harsh winter weather anymore, right?
Year-over-year job growth in the Nashville MSA clocked in at 2.7 percent in April, in line with the previous two months. As far as we can tell, it's the first time in more than three years that Music City has put up three straight months of sub-3 percent growth. Smaller gains in construction didn't help, but that sector employs less than 40,000 of the region's almost 900,000 workers so it can't really have a big impact. Of bigger import has been the dropoff in growth in the business services and hospitality sectors, which combine to employ more than 240,000 people. On the plus side, manufacturing, retail and education/health are holding their own.
So... This set of numbers showing Nashville job growth staying well under 3 percent for the second straight month was probably due to the weather, right? For the sake of It City, let's hope the late-winter snows are to blame. It's likely the weather is the cause of the construction sector's drop into single-digit growth for the first time since October. But a number of other sectors also were well off the pace they had set early this year. Come next month, they'll have to pick up the pace.
Nashville-area employment growth slipped to 2.6 percent in February, its slowest pace in at least a couple of years. The biggest contributors to the slowdown — which would seem to have been heavily influenced by the disruptive winter storms — were the manufacturing, business services and leisure sectors.
The number of Nashville-area jobs rose by 3.4 percent year over year in January, the fastest pace in four months. The construction sector somehow added momentum and was up more than 12 percent while the transportation and utilities industries rebounded from some slow months to end 2014. The important factory, retail, education and health sectors kept right trucking from where they left off last year. Looking ahead, we'll be keeping our eye on February's numbers for any impact from the winter weather blasts we had to endure.
The Nashville-area economy created 25,600 jobs in 2014, according to preliminary numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compiled by MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center. The 3.1 percent growth rate was a bit higher than 2013's but down from the white-hot 3.9 percent pace of 2012. The region's construction sector will look back on the year with fond memories of double-digit growth, and business services companies continue to create hundreds of jobs each month. But look at the education and health services line in the chart below for what could be an important emerging trend. After treading water for the first eight months of the year, those two local economic heavyweights picked up the pace in a big way in the fall and ended the year having added 3,600 jobs. Without that surge, we wouldn't have reached 3 percent overall growth for the year.
Heading toward the end of 2014, the Middle Tennessee job market was weaving some interesting narratives. The construction sector's growth picked up speed in November, clocking in at a whopping 13 percent, and the important health/education, retail and durable goods manufacturing sectors were holding their own. But overall growth was pulled back a bit because of growing softness in hospitality employment and a further slowing in the broad business sector, which was up "just" 6 percent year over year versus 10 percent in September. Check out all these numbers and more high-level data at the website of MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center.
Few economic indicators are as lumpy month to month and quarter to quarter as construction permits. But there's no ambiguity in the Middle Tennessee numbers these days: Multifamily construction is on fire — and almost single-handedly responsible for the statewide 40 percent jump in permits from a year ago.
The chart below shows the Nashville-area January-to-October multifamily permit totals for each year dating back to 2005. The year-to-date number for 2014 is roughly the same as the combined figure for 2012-13 activity and only a bit less than the total from the first 10 months of 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 combined.