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ThinkTennessee’s 2021 Dashboard finds state lags Nation on Economic opportunities, outcomes for working families    

Rankings show policy solutions needed to address long-term economic challenges,
as well as immediate Covid-19 recovery

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – While the pandemic compounded the financial burdens affecting Tennessee families, the state regularly underperforms its peers on numerous measures of economic well-being, according to the 2021 State of Our State dashboard ThinkTennessee released today.

Now in its fifth year, the dashboard shows how Tennessee ranks nationally on more than 100 different indicators across 11 categories, from the economy to health to elections and civic life. Taken together, the metrics provide policymakers and the public with an at-a-glance look at where Tennessee is doing well and where more progress is still needed.

“The economic recession caused by Covid-19 confirmed what our dashboard has been telling us for years,” said Shanna Singh Hughey, president of ThinkTennessee. “Many of the economic challenges we see today existed well before March 2020 – and they will continue to exist unless our policy interventions can shift from the short- to the long-term, building our communities and economies back stronger than they were before.”

Key findings: Tennessee celebrates a strong business climate, and for good reason: The state currently ranks in the top half of the nation when it comes to GDP growth (24th). But although our economy may be working well for some Tennesseans, it is leaving many others behind.

  • Declining income: Real median household income has fallen in Tennessee every year since 2017, coinciding with a drop from 39th to 44th in national rank.
  • Growing wage gap: In 2016, a Tennessee woman made 81.1 cents for every dollar a man made. In 2019, she made 78.2 cents. Overall, the state ranks 36th in the nation when it comes to the size of its wage gap.
  • High poverty rate: At 13.9% in 2019, Tennessee’s poverty rate is ninth highest in the nation (ranking 43rd).
  • Extreme debt burdens: 20.5% of Tennesseans have medical debt in collections, the seventh-highest rate in the nation (ranking 45th overall). 12% of student loan holders are in default, the 12th highest rate in the nation (ranking 40th). Economic distress is even more severe in Tennessee’s communities of color, where the percentage of medical debt in collections is an alarming 30.1% (ranking 38th nationally) and 18.6% of student loan holders are in default (36th).

The State of Our State dashboard is part of ThinkTennesseee’s work to equip policymakers with tools to address the challenges of today and move our state forward. ThinkTennessee also issues regular reports, which provide important context and highlight pragmatic policy solutions.

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