A tech boom. The Gig City. Startups and entrepreneurs. The proud home of Volkswagen in America. It seems that every time you hear about Chattanooga lately, things seem to be booming in our little big city. But is there behind these flashy headlines? Have all of our citizens experienced the “Chattanooga Renaissance”?
Chattanooga is facing a crisis of economy as more and more of our citizens get left behind in cycles of poverty and unemployment. The extremes between the Two Chattanoogas is making national news. Read below to get the facts.
ANew York Times article on America’s growing poor and low-income populations featured Chattanooga as a highlight of disturbing new trends. The article found that 27 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line, nearly double the national average. Out of that number, “women head two-thirds of the city’s poor households and 42 percent of its children are poor, nearly double the rate statewide”
Poverty is a growing trend in Chattanooga. According to a 2013 Brookings Institute Report, poverty has grown in the last decade in the suburbs by 52% while in the city poverty has grown by 75.2%, faster than the national average.
The gap between the rich and poor Chattanoogas is increasing. Chattanooga ranks 12th in the nation for economic inequality out of the top 100 markets for the ratio of lower-income households to high-income households. For every one household earning $200,000 or more, there are 20 earning less than $50,000.
Two Chattanoogas: Disparities Across Communities Even as the gap between the Two Chattanoogas continues to grow, our city’s marginalized populations are disproportionately hurt, revealing the wide and systemic damage caused by our city’s history and legacy of racism. The numbers don’t lie.
Black households make an average of $26,787 per year, while for whites it’s $51,548. Sixty-percent of Black children live in poverty, compared to 16.5% of white children.
About 30 percent of blacks 18 to 24 do not have a high school diploma and the unemployment rate for black males without a diploma is 52 percent.
The unemployment rate for blacks went from 6.9 percent in 2000 to 16.2 percent in 2010. For whites it went from 2.7 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2010.
Corporate Handouts These inequities are caused, in part, by prioritization of corporate welfare agreements that redistribute wealth from poorer communities to international corporations. Called PILOT Agreements, these tax-incentives or other economic recruitment tools oftentimes favor corporations and Big Business at the expense of gaining direct benefits for our communities.
City leaders have been in the business of approving tax breaks for companies for years. In exchange for those tax breaks, businesses promised to provide jobs for the community. Unfortunately, no formal method of holding those businesses publicly accountable exists.
These problems are exacerbated due to the outsourcing of city economic development and recruitment policies to the Chamber of Commerce, who actively promotes Chattanooga’s workforce as highly exploitable.
Community Benefits Economic development should benefit more than just a few. To ensure that all of Chattanooga’s communities benefit from from economic development, COA, along with our community partners, have researched and advocated for new equitable economic development policies to increase the wealth and opportunity for marginalized communities.
Popular in many other cities across the country, Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are legally-binding agreements between an economic entity and the surrounding community to guarantee direct benefits such as first-source hiring, living wage jobs, and environmental protections. COA encourages the use of CBAs to make sure everyday people share in Chattanooga’s renaissance.