Tennessee boasts a rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural landscapes. However, not all its residents share the same level of prosperity and well-being. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Tennessee was $58,516 in 2020, slightly below the national median of $62,843.
Furthermore, 13.9% of the state’s population lived below the poverty line, in contrast to the national rate of 10.5%. So, which city in Tennessee has the lowest income and the highest poverty rate? According to a recent report from 24/7 Wall St., the answer is Morristown, a city of approximately 30,000 people located in the northeastern part of the state.
Why Did Morristown Become Tennessee’s Poorest City?
Morristown, situated in Hamblen County, is approximately 50 miles northeast of Knoxville. Established in 1787 by Gideon Morris, a Revolutionary War veteran, the city flourished into a significant trading and transportation center during the 19th century, owing to its strategic position along the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and the Nolichucky River.
Initially reliant on agriculture, particularly tobacco, Morristown’s economic landscape shifted in the mid-20th century with the rise of manufacturing industries.
The city became home to various factories producing textiles, furniture, appliances, and automotive components. It also drew a significant number of immigrants from Mexico and Central America who sought employment in the factories and farms, often for lower wages.
However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Morristown faced economic challenges. Many factories shuttered or moved operations overseas, leading to a substantial number of unemployed residents.
Additionally, the city grappled with issues such as crime, drug abuse, and insufficient public services. Between 2010 and 2020, Morristown’s population grew by only 3.4%, significantly lower than the state average of 8.9%.
How Does Morristown Stand Out Against Other Tennessee and American Cities?
Morristown, Tennessee, stands out as the poorest among the 28 places in the state with available data and populations of at least 25,000. The typical household in Morristown earns $33,511 annually, which is considerably lower than the statewide median of $54,833. In fact, Morristown’s median household income is less than half of the national median, which is $62,843.
Furthermore, Morristown has the highest poverty rate in Tennessee, with 28.7% of its population living below the poverty line. This is more than double the state average of 13.9% and the national average of 10.5%.
Shockingly, nearly one in three Morristown residents fall below the poverty line, which was set at $26,246 for a family of four in 2020. This poverty rate is particularly high among children, standing at 41.2%, compared to the statewide average of 18.9% and the national average of 14.4%.
Morristown’s economic struggles are evident in various other aspects, including education, health, and housing. Only 16.5% of Morristown’s adult population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, a stark contrast to the statewide average of 28.5% and the national average of 32.6%.
Life expectancy in Morristown is also lower, with residents averaging 75.1 years, compared to 76.3 years statewide and 78.9 years nationwide. Additionally, the housing market in Morristown is struggling, with a median home value of $123,900, significantly lower than the statewide median of $191,900 and the national median of $240,500.
What Can Be Done to Improve Morristown’s Situation?
Morristown, like many other small and mid-sized cities in the U.S., is grappling with economic challenges in the age of globalization and automation. However, experts and local leaders have put forth potential solutions to rejuvenate Morristown and enhance the lives of its residents.
One key approach is to broaden the city’s economic base and attract new businesses and industries that can provide better-paying and more secure employment opportunities.
Morristown possesses assets that can aid in achieving this objective, including its proximity to major markets like Knoxville and Asheville, access to transportation networks like Interstate 81 and Highway 25E, and available land and infrastructure.
Morristown also boasts existing industries, such as healthcare, education, and tourism, which can be expanded or capitalized upon.
Another tactic involves investing in the city’s human and social capital, by improving the education and skills of the workforce, enhancing the overall health and well-being of the population, and nurturing a sense of community and civic participation among residents.
Morristown is fortunate to have institutions and organizations like Walters State Community College, Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, and the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce that can support these efforts.
It’s possible that Morristown is the poorest city in Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Morristown is capable of overcoming its current economic challenges and securing a brighter future for its citizens if the city has the foresight, the plan, and the dedication necessary.