Nobody wants to say it, but there is a big problem in Bristol. Our recent mention on Daily Finance.com’s “Top Ten Poorest Cities,” was a wake-up call for Bristol’s leaders to face the problem of underemployment in our town.
Kudos! to Downtown Bristol
Sure, there are lots of things going well here, especially in Downtown Bristol; much credit belongs to Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and the folks who work hard to make it happen. People seem to have a sense of community and a pride in the city again, but our overall economy is a big problem that we avoid discussing. Nobody wants to rain on the parade in Downtown Bristol.
Experts carefully watch the unemployment figures for an accurate economic picture, but in our town, underemployment is the real problem. Our people are proud and have an outstanding work ethic. Many independent Bristol residents take very low-paying, no-benefits jobs just to be able to work. Restaurant jobs are the biggest employer here now, with many big-name eateries coming into the area because of our tourist events like Rhythm and Roots and the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Let them listen to the radio!
So, while the well-employed and more comfortable Bristol citizens and out-of-town guests enjoy the music and the races, the people who serve them in the restaurants cannot afford to attend. There are also other employers such as call centers and retailers who barely pay a living wage and provide little or no healthcare.
Leaders in the Bristol community need to look beyond just our musical heritage and try to bring in employers who pay a decent wage. This would elevate a huge block of our citizenry and provide much-needed medical and dental care for them, too. Many working adults in the area do not qualify for government-based healthcare programs.
Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion has been instrumental in bringing a visible change in both sides of Bristol, and this certainly may be a drawing card to entice businesses to locate here.
There is, however, a large segment of Bristol’s population “singing the blues.”
By the way, we are fifth on the list, grouped together with Kingsport as we are in government unemployment data. Tennessee and Texas are the two poorest states, according to the Brookings Institute.
Unfortunately, the accompanying photograph for the article about Bristol, Tennessee, Bristol, Virginia, and Kingsport area on Daily Finance is our famous Bristol sign.