Diversification of state creates challenges, opportunities


In 1986, Tennessee Homecoming celebrations honored more than 3,000 communities spanning the state from Mountain City to Memphis. Then-Gov. Lamar Alexander used the occasion to call on residents of big cities and crossroads alike to take pride in their hometowns.

A comparable celebration in 2017 would span the globe to encompass communities from Pigeon Forge to Mexico City to New Delhi and back to Humboldt — because the hometowns of today’s Tennesseans are that diverse.

While our diversification — like any change — may bring some challenges, it presents even greater opportunities.

Think Tennessee, a nonpartisan think tank, recently analyzed data provided by “States of Change: Demographics and Democracy,” a collaboration of the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress, and uncovered these trends in Tennessee.

* Tennessee’s population is steadily diversifying: Between 1980 and 2014, the percentage of Tennessee’s population represented by minority racial and ethnic groups grew from 17 percent to 26 percent. In 2030, 30 percent of Tennesseans will be minorities; by 2060, our minority population will total about 39 percent.

* By 2060, nearly half of Tennessee’s children will be minorities: Tennessee’s children today are more diverse than our adults, and that gap will persist. By 2030, 39 percent of our children will be from minority groups, and our population of children who are minorities will rise to 49 percent by 2060.

* Tennessee’s population is graying: In 2030, we’ll have fewer Tennesseans of working age (59 percent) than we did in 2014 (62 percent). By 2050, our working-age population will drop to 56 percent.

* Fewer Tennesseans are getting married: Tennesseans are less likely to be married today than in 1980 when more than two-thirds of Tennesseans age 18 or older were married. Today, adult Tennesseans are nearly as likely to be unmarried (45 percent) as we are to be married (55 percent).

Demographic changes may not be forces of nature, but their public-policy implications must not be ignored.

For instance, as our population gets older and fewer of us are working, what kind of healthcare system will Tennessee need and be able to afford? As our communities diversify, how might our state best serve them, and what opportunities will that present for our workforce capacity?

Understanding this data is the first step in preparing for our state’s future. Policy decisions today will have a huge impact on the generations of tomorrow, and decision-makers must do everything they can to ensure that these shifting demographics factor into their planning.

Think Tennessee will do its part by continuing to release data and information that supports a strong Tennessee and by proposing moderate, pragmatic responses that take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the challenges facing our state.


The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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