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County Supervisor Blasts Obscene Pay Raises

"I don't approve of percentage raises. The rich get richer, and the poor never catch up."

Washington County Supervisor Paul Price blasted this year's (2008) "percentage-based raises" for widening the income gap between county workers and executive paper pushers. In 2007 the already overpaid county executives got obscene pay raises.

County Administrator Mark Reeter got a $20,000 raise last year and another $3200 this year while County Attorney Lucy Phillips got $13,000 and another $2800 this year. Working full-time employees got a whopping $8 an hour. Mr. Price calls this "disproportionate" and he is right.

He by the way supported the 2007 increases. Quoting Mr. Price in regards to people like Reeter, "I wouldn't say that I wouldn't want them to get a raise, but we've got to do something about the people who just aren't making ends meet. You've got county employees who work hard and show up, and they just keep getting farther and farther behind."

Note that government workers in the region earn much more than private sector workers, so why doesn't this also apply to them? Mr. Price wants a more "fair" plan on pay raises for public workers; "I don't approve of percentage raises. The rich get richer, and the poor never catch up." He wants a new plan in two years; good luck Mr. Price.

Income, and Education in Bristol

By Lewis Loflin

One of my favorite quotes from our public officials that see poverty as a business asset:

"Our labor force is a huge advantage since the county unemployment rate is twice the state average, and regionally, the unemployment rates range from 3.5 percent to 15 percent."

Poverty is an advantage to business by putting downward pressure on wages.

It's also a gold mine to politicians demanding more and more "spending" (state/federal) to fix the "problems" they often generate. They get the money to spend on what they want bypassing the average citizen, wages stay low and continues being a business asset. In most cases business, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local political power brokers are the same thing.

Deceptive job and employment stats. The region in reality is a sea of working class poverty with islands of extreme wealth. The area around Eastman Chemical in Kingsport (which has shed thousand of jobs in recent years) and the wealthiest community in Southwest Virginia (Abingdon in Washington County, Virginia) masks the real poverty that continues to plague the region. See The truth about unemployment.

To quote,

"Per capita income is often used as a measure of the wealth of the population...Per capita income gives no indication of the distribution of that income within the country, so a small wealthy class can increase the measured per-capita income far above that of the majority of the population..."

Others prefer medium income, but that still doesn't reflect how that income is earned or obtained. I'm interested in actual earned private sector income for those that hold a real job and how the economy impacts them.

As of the 2000 census, Bristol Virginia had a total population of 17,367, and gained perhaps five people since then. It is the twin city of Bristol, Tennessee, just across the state line, which runs down the middle of its main street, State Street. Bristol Tennessee has grown, mostly by annexation of select portions of Sullivan County, Tennessee. Under Virginia law Bristol, Virginia is not allowed to annex.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Bristol, Virginia with Washington County for statistical purposes. This is deceptive for the reason the per capita income in Abingdon is $5,000 higher than Bristol, Virginia with a larger population.

Along with Kingsport, Tennessee and Johnson City, Tennessee the two Bristols form the Tri-Cities region. The total population of both Bristols is about 57,000.

According to Wikipedia's ranking of 375 communities in Virginia by per capita income, Abingdon ranks number 102 at $22,486 outranking places such as Fredericksburg, Virginia at $21,527 in wealthy northern Virginia.

But Bristol, Virginia only seven miles away plummets to number 220 at $17,311. Number 238 Glade Spring, Virginia on the other side of Abingdon is even lower at $16,842.

Number 281 Emory-Meadow View, Virginia home of Emery and Henry College comes in even worse at only $15,750. Down the road we have number 328 Blacksburg, Virginia at an even lower $13,946.

Blacksburg is dominated economically and demographically by the presence of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. (Better known as Virginia Tech)

What is the problem with colleges? Why such low incomes for average people in the surrounding communities while they bring billions of mostly government dollars?

Bristol, Virginia has Virginia Intermont College, (the college closed in 2014) that has been in deep financial trouble, and Bristol, Tennessee has King College. The Kingsport Times-News reported that ETSU in Johnson City made a big economic impact along with the others across the region. They failed to note their degrees make little impact in the income of their graduates unless they relocate.

I'm not knocking colleges (I'm an adjunct at one), but most colleges form a closed economic system. They might get millions in government grants, student tuition, etc. but the money stays within the college itself. (Other than a professor might buy a house, etc.) As non-profits they pay no property taxes, but use costly public services anyway that others often pay for. Most are useless for job creation or a tax base.

Education: only 23 percent of the population has a college degree, nearly all them doctors, lawyers, and government employees. Yet the Tri-Cities region graduates thousands of college graduates every year, including the massive East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

Yet the percentage of college graduates in the community is far below the national average, employers claim they can't find educated workers. I'll explore that lie more below. In many counties in this region the county school system is the major employer.

According to data released by the Bristol Herald Courier in early 2008, government employees earn far above the income of most private sector workers. As private sector industries such as manufacturing continue to decline, government employment is filling in the gaps for the lucky ones. An associates degree (about 6 percent of the population) pays little more than a high school diploma.

A college degree is often a liability because employers here don't want those "over qualified" workers. Yet our leaders justify the region's low-wage scales because, guess what, we have an uneducated workforce. More below on that.

Less than 9th grade 12%
9th to 12th grade, no diploma 15%
High school graduate 29%
Some college, no degree 20%
Associate's degree 6%
Bachelor's degree 13%
Graduate degree 4%

249 Lebanon, Virginia $16,678
266 Buchanan, Virginia $16,238
280 Weber City, Virginia $15,856
360 Duffield, Virginia $12,046

White 94%
Black or African American 6%
Median monthly rent $409
Household Income
Less than $10,000 16%
$10,000 to $14,999 11%
$15,000 to $24,999 19%

The leading industries in Bristol, Virginia are Manufacturing, 22%; Educational, health and social services, 16%; and Retail trade, 14%. Simply Hired's Bristol job listings indicate that the following industries in Bristol are hiring the most workers: Clinics & Outpatient Services, Outpatient Surgery Centers, Trauma Centers, Home Health Care and Misc Store Retailers.

According to their Bristol Trends data, the number of Bristol, Virginia jobs has decreased by 26% since September 2006 dispute millions being plowed into so-called "economic development." That included $225,000 for a seafood restaurant, and almost three million by Bristol, Virginia for a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Washington County, Virginia did even better giving a strip-mall developer $10 million in corporate welfare. Bristol, Virginia a town of 17,000 is now $110 million in debt.

Thus 46% of the population earns under $25,000. At a median rent of $409 (not counting utilities where the City owned electric company has raised electric rates almost 100% since 2005), assuming a low $600 a month rent/utilities, 16% of the population spends over two-thirds of their monthly income just on rent; another 11% spends half, another 19% spends almost one-third before tax income on rent/utilities.

The government (this is disputed by some) considers one third of income spent on rent a problem. Thus almost one-third to one-half the population has one foot in the door to being homeless. Public housing has a waiting list of over two years.

One local worker I interviewed that worked at Wal-Mart had to move to Kingsport because rent is so expensive in Bristol, but now due the exploding price of gasoline can't afford the commute. He is considering relocating to Knoxville.

Let's debunk one lie right now, that Bristol and Tri-Cities are cheap to live in. They are not. Affordable housing versus pay scales (actual earned income) doesn't exist here. One study (Kingsport Times-News) comparing Kingsport to areas such as Nashville show a difference in cost of living of only 11%, but when we factor in the much lower wage scales paid here we understand why the above person will likely relocate.

$25,000 to $34,999 16%
$35,000 to $49,999 17%
$50,000 to $74,999 13%
$75,000 to $99,999 5%
$100,000 to $149,999 2%
$150,000 to $199,999 1%
$200,000 or more 1%

The government figures also don't separate income from actual jobs versus retirement and investment income, and transfer payments. The University of Virginia at Wise reports that "transfer income (retirement pensions, disability income, and welfare benefits)" as a major income source for Bristol, and that, the population of Bristol is less prosperous than the population of Virginia. The poverty rate in Bristol is 68% higher than the Virginia rate.

The per capita income for Bristolians is only 72% of the per capita income for Virginians. The proportion of Bristol residents over the age of 25 without a high school diploma is 50% higher than in Virginia. Given the relative poverty and poor health status of the population, it seems clear that people in Bristol would benefit from increased access to primary care.
Medical is big industry in the region as the population with Medicaid (2004) as 23.7%, more than double the Virginia average.