Center for American Progress Action

RELEASE: New Report Tracks Tennessee’s Progress Toward Cutting Poverty and Expanding Opportunity
Press Release

RELEASE: New Report Tracks Tennessee’s Progress Toward Cutting Poverty and Expanding Opportunity

Washington, DC – With over one million Americans set to lose unemployment insurance at the end of this month, Half in Ten today released a new report that ranks how the 50 states are faring on 14 different indicators of economic security and opportunity.  The report finds that while in 2012, the official poverty rate in the United States was 15 percent, in Tennessee the poverty rate was 17.9 percent, ranking it 40th among other states in the country.

Across the 14 different indicators, Tennessee is doing the best on its rankings for the gender wage gap, children living apart from parents, and the teen birth rate:

  • Tennessee ranks 18th best on assets and saving out of all 50 states and D.C.   23 percent of households in Tennessee were “asset poor” in 2010. This is the share of households whose total assets, including any home equity—minus their total liabilities—are less than three times the monthly federal poverty threshold.
  • On high school graduation rate Tennessee ranked 21st. 80.4 percent of high school students in Tennessee graduated on time at the end of the 2009–10 school year.
  • Tennessee ranks 22nd in lack of health insurance coverage.  27.7 percent of people under age 65 and below 138 percent of the poverty line in Tennessee did not have health insurance at any time in 2012.

In contrast, Tennessee is doing the worst on unemployment insurance coverage, hunger and food insecurity, and disconnected youth:

  • Tennessee ranked 48th worst in the nation in lack of unemployment insurance coverage. The share of unemployed workers who received regular unemployment compensation fell to 26.4 percent in 2012, a historical low. The sharp drop in overall unemployment coverage from 2011 to 2012 reflects the decision Congress made in February 2012  And in Tennessee, only 17 percent of the state’s unemployed residents are receiving benefits.
  • In hunger and food insecurity, Tennessee ranked 43rd out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The food-insecurity indicator measures the share of total households that experienced difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of money or resources. In 2012, 14.5 percent of households—17.6 million households, to be exact—were food insecure.  But in Tennessee, 16.2 percent of households were food insecure on average from 2010 to 2012, meaning that at some point during the year.
  • When it comes to disconnected youth, Tennessee ranks 43rdYoung people represent great potential for growth in our economy, yet too many of them lack the resources to fully participate. In 2011, 5.2 million youth ages 18 to 24—17 percent of the total—were not attending school, were not employed, and had no degree beyond high school, meaning they were disconnected and economically excluded. 20 percent of youth ages 16 to 24 in Tennessee who were not in school or working in 2011.

The bottom line is this: Low-income families in states across the country are suffering from too many years of reckless efforts to reduce the federal deficit. Although many states need to improve local policies—especially those that hinder the ability of low-income families to access federally funded programs—the state-by-state results from our indicators show that the budget choices we make at the national level have consequences.

It’s time to reset the debate. It’s time to reinvest in our economy and build a better path to shared opportunity for families that are still struggling, even in a slow-growing economy. Although not ideal, the recent budget agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators will reduce the harmful effects of sequestration and represents a positive step in the right direction, but still doesn’t make the investments our country needs to get our country back on track.