Jul 11, 2022 - News

Tennessee's population is getting more diverse

Change in Tennessee population by race/ethnicity
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Skye Witley/Axios

Tennessee is growing more diverse, with new data showing the state's Hispanic and multi-racial populations are expanding at a faster rate than other racial and ethnic groups.

  • The Hispanic population grew by 3.8% from 2020 to 2021, according to U.S. Census figures, compared to .6% growth of the non-Hispanic white population in the same timeframe.

Why it matters: Advocates say the deepening diversity should serve as a flare for policymakers and community groups around the state.

Driving the news: The findings in the latest round of U.S. Census data are in line with long-term projections that show a continuous expansion of Tennessee's minority population.

  • An analysis released in March from the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee found diversity would keep growing across multiple metrics over the next 20 years.
  • While the white population is expected to remain the state's largest racial or ethnic group, the analysis found the share of white residents is expected to decrease from 73% of the population in 2020 to about 66% in 2040.
  • The state’s Hispanic population is expected to grow the fastest, expanding by nearly 400,000 people to make up about 10% of the state population by 2040.

What they're saying: Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) tells Axios that the growth is driven by a robust community of immigrants and refugees.

  • "Tennessee is a new destination state … for immigrants and refugees who are looking to start businesses and join their families," she says.

Between the lines: Sherman Luna says the fact that Tennessee was undercounted in the 2020 Census likely means those communities are larger than the data suggests.

State of play: TIRRC is expanding in line with that growth, building a new $3 million headquarters and community hub in 2021 and establishing a standalone political group TIRRC Votes to push for electoral and policy wins.

The big picture: Sherman Luna, who also heads the political group, says politicians at the local and state levels should establish public policies that support immigrants and refugees.

  • She says Nashville’s recent $1.8 million grant for immigration legal services and bipartisan state legislation that expanded some immigrants' access to professional licenses are positive steps.
  • "Investing in helping overcome the particular barriers that those communities face is good for all Tennesseans," Sherman Luna says. "We're starting to see governments recognize that a bit more."
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