Why the big money discrepancy for Tennesseans?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

(WVLT) The last few years, we've watched Tennessee grow, with new workers, and retirees looking for warm weather and mountain views.

So why then, would new studies say your paycheck and your income are less likely to grow here, than in all but

One other state.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd reports the answers are familiar.

But not simple.

First look at these numbers, you might think, Tennessee really does pay me in sunshine.

The sun here is cheaper.

But that's not all that's holding down income.

From Saturn in Spring Hill, to the high tech and health care corridors growing in our own hills, Tennessee has high-paying, high skilled jobs, but on average, Bryan Shone, a UT Grad Student says, "I know that salaries are a bit lower than they are in other states."

Bill Fox, with the UT Center for Business & Economic Research says, "all states in the South have lower per capital personal income than the national average."

Tennessee's though, is more than 5 grand below the national average.

But more significantly, it's growing lots more slowly than the rest
of the country, less than 3 and a half percent last year.

Shone says, "but I think it's for several reasons."

Amanda Ellis, a UT Marketing Junior says, "I think the thing that keeps people from coming here is the picture of us that we're all hillbillies running around, but that's not who we are, obviously."

Dr. Bill Fox says, "if you measure our real income, taking into account the cost of living, it's not as bad as it looks."

Comparing does take out some of the sting.

Add up housing, taxes, food, health care, utilities and transportation.

You'd need 2 grand more in Dallas, three grand more in Atlanta,
and almost twice as much in San Francisco to go as far as 33 grand and change buys you in Knoxville.

But costs aren't the only factor.

Dr. Fox says, "it's about getting the labor force that has the skills to compete with the very best."

No question, Tennessee has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs
the last 15 years.

But UT's economic researchers say Tennessee's handicap begins in the classroom, not the shop floor.

Dr. Bill Fox says, "part of the problem is we have an adult population who've already been educated, and they were under-educated. And we're making the changes with the younger part of the group, and it takes a lot of years for them to become part of the labor force."

Among those changes, Doctor Bill Fox says, lottery scholarships,
paying to school Tennessee's best in Tennessee schools, hoping they'll
stay after they graduate.

Lawrence Dillon, a UT Junior, Memphis Native says, "I'd like to be in Tennessee and be close to home, that's my reason for staying here."

But true change, Fox says, requires a lot more than hometown heart strings and blood ties.

"We have to have a population that believes in investing in themselves in the way to create growing long-term income."

Translation: we 've got to boost high school graduation rates, and refocus how and what we spend on schools.

The real growth, in jobs, wages, and wealth, researchers say, will come from start-ups, creating new products or services, all of which need skilled, flexible workers.


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