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Metro Nashville’s economic growth still leaving workers of color behind

by PRIDE Newsdesk
A new report reveals the need for a comprehensive approach to advance workforce equity in the Nashville region and provides several actionable strategies for closing racial income gaps.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nashville’s strong and sustained growth helped make it Tennessee’s largest city and the state’s biggest economic powerhouse. But new research exposes the disconnect between the region’s increasing diversity and its overall prosperity: while people of color are driving population growth in Nashville, they are not equitably benefiting from its economic gains.

The report offers a comprehensive look at the racial inequities that have long persisted in the region’s workforce. It is titled ‘Advancing Workforce Equity in Nashville: A Blueprint for Action’  and was released by the Urban League of Middle Tennessee (ULMT); the National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute; Lightcast; and JPMorgan Chase.

The report shows that only about 41% of the region’s 915,000 workers hold good jobs and that workers of color are almost twice as likely as their White counterparts to earn wages under $15 per hour. These inequities cost the region about $9.5 billion in lost economic activity per year.

“The employment and wage inequities that exist in Nashville are both a moral injustice and a threat to the region’s economic stability,” said Clifton Harris, president/CEO of the Urban League of Middle Tennessee. “The stronger and more equitable we can make our workforce, the higher the potential will be for every Nashvillian and every community.”

For the last 18 months, ULMT has collaborated with community, business, policy, and educational leaders to develop recommendations for building a more equitable workforce in the Nashville region. The report outlines several of these strategies, including:

Center racial equity in workforce development programs and use disaggregated data to track and measure progress.

  • Increase access to pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, and other training and placement services that can connect people of color to high-quality jobs.
  • Dismantle barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

Funded by JPMorgan Chase, this analysis will help further inform the firm’s philanthropic decisions in Middle Tennessee. Since 2018, JPMorgan Chase has invested more than $8 million into the region to prepare people for the future of work—including a $7 million investment through the firm’s Global Career Readiness initiative. They are working with local partners, including Nashville State Community College, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, to help prepare local students with real-world skills and experiences they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

“Using data, industry insights, and human capital, the findings from this report help us better understand the needs for a more inclusive and equitable tomorrow,” said Dan Lally, vice president, Commercial Bank, JPMorgan Chase. “Equipping our region’s business, government, and nonprofit leaders with the data presented here will pay dividends for our community going forward.”

The findings presented in this report underscore the urgent need for funders, policymakers, employers, and community-based organizations to prioritize workforce equity in the Nashville region. With that in mind, ULMT has established the Middle Tennessee Workforce Equity Collective, an equity-promoting ecosystem designed to restore individuals and communities to wholeness by reducing unemployment and poverty.

The full report, including the data and tailored strategies, can be accessed at <bit.ly/3AyfqmD>.

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