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Nashville depends on low-wage workers. How do we ensure they can live here? | Opinion

The Tennessean (Nashville) logo The Tennessean (Nashville) 8/1/2022 Eddie Latimer

Nashville has 480,000 jobs; 211,000 (44%) pay less than $39,000 a year.  We hear how so many of our new jobs pay over $80,000. 

Higher wages are welcomed, but why are 44% of our jobs lower wage jobs? 

This finding comes from a new report by Metro Social Services.  One of MSS responsibilities is to track the living conditions for our lower-income working neighbors, those living on fixed income and those in poverty. 

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MSS reports their findings in their annual Community Needs Report.  The statistics above come from the 2021 Community Needs Evaluation Report

The findings are sobering.

More: Rising costs and stagnant wages are financially squeezing Nashville families unlike before

Low-wage workers make the city's economy work

Of the many valuable statistics in MSS’s report, this piece will simply focus on two findings. 

First, as stated earlier, 44% of our workforce earn low wages ($18/hour and less). 

Second, many of Nashville’s industries are highly dependent on these lower wage jobs. 

These industries include entertainment, food, hotels, retail, education, government, health care, manufacturing, and others. 

It is also important to understand that many of these jobs do not provide health care, childcare, affordable housing opportunities, paid time off, plus many experience long, expensive commutes. 

The reality is our city, our many educational institutions, our local and state governments, our entertainment/tourist industries, and our Chamber need these lower wage workers to make our city successful; to make our economy work. 

But do we have an obligation to look out for and protect the quality of life of our vital lower wage workers? 

There is a moral obligation to helping workers

Many Nashvillians try to make our second life priority to understand and live out what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Loving our neighbor as ourselves creates an interdependence as we recognize we need each other.

Simply stated, I watch out for you and would you please watch out for me.

Nashville needs low-income jobs for our economy to function, and low-wage earners need Nashville’s help to allow them to live in Davidson County. 

We need to find a way for those living in comfort and those who earn low wages to live interdependently.

Housing is at the core of the solution

We citizens and our leaders can help these vital workers afford to live somewhat comfortably in other ways. 

One initial way is we can preserve and create more affordable housing.  Housing costs that are realistically attainable to lower wage earners can have the impact of a salary boost. 

Affordable housing can serve as a way of giving back to these vital neighbors. 

Nashville owns a great deal of land.  Currently there is a rumor that the city is working to establish an updated list of all the buildable land it owns. 

With this list the city could set aside some of its land specifically to build affordable housing for our vital lower income workforce and for those with various disabilities. 

Advocate for better policies and decisions from leaders

As a community we can find new ways to provide affordable housing in Nashville so these critical neighbors would at least have the option to live among us?  We need to embrace our responsibility that they need us to help them be able to live in Nashville without fear on their lower wages. 

Eddie Latimer is CEO of Affordable Housing Resources, Inc., in Nashville. © Submitted Eddie Latimer is CEO of Affordable Housing Resources, Inc., in Nashville.

What can we citizens do beside sit and watch Nashville unintentionally push out our needed lower wage workforce due to the lack of policies and plans? 

Metro Council has many councilpersons who care about Nashville’s lower wage workers. 

We can write to our councilpersons and the mayor and ask them to complete this list of city-owned land and to work with non-profits to create plans to develop it. 

We can also look at strategies to increase housing density.  We can make a difference on this matter by personally encouraging those we elected to lead us into a solution to increase affordable housing using land the city already controls to help house our valuable lower wage earners stay in Nashville. 

Eddie Latimer is the CEO of Affordable Housing Resources (AHR) in Nashville, Tennessee. AHR is a 30-year-old housing nonprofit focused on creating affordable homeownership and stronger neighborhoods through public and private partnerships.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville depends on low-wage workers. How do we ensure they can live here? | Opinion


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