A lack of economic development and opportunities in Nashville’s African American community has been born out in an alarming statistic. According to a study by the Brookings Institute, African Americans living in the 37208 zip code had the highest incarceration rate in the country.
The study shows that 14% of people who grew up in North Nashville in the early 1980s were incarcerated at some point in their 30s.
The study showed a direct correlation between income levels and incarceration.
According to the authors: “Boys who grew up in families in the bottom 10% of the income distribution (families earning less than about $14,000 are 20 times more likely to be in prison on a given day in their early 30s than children born to the wealthiest families) those earning more than $143,000.”
The authors estimate that almost one in 10 boys born to lowest income families are incarcerated at age 30 and make up about 27% of prisoners at that age.
Zip code 37208 covers historic African American North Nashville. From 1980 to 1986, one in seven children born in North Nashville could expect to end up incarcerated on any given day in their early 30s, the highest rate in the nation among high-population Zip codes.
“The poor labor market outcomes we see prior to incarceration, as well as the strong relationship between childhood conditions and later incarceration, suggests that there are other barriers to employment beyond incarceration,” said the authors. “Policies focused earlier in life that increase childhood investments, reduce discrimination, reform criminal justice practices, or target economic distress in specific neighborhoods may be more effective tools for both reducing future incarceration rates and by aiding reentry following release.”
Others alarming statistics discovered in the study include massive disparities in health outcomes and economic growth, with distressed communities literally being left behind by the rest of the country.
The inhabitants of more prosperous places tend to be healthier and live longer than their neighbors in less advantaged communities, where struggles to find work or pay the bills exact heavy physical and psychological tolls. Additionally, economic growth is concentrated in the top echelon of U.S. places. An impressive 85% of prosperous zip codes saw rising numbers of business establishments and 88% registered job growth.
Outside of the upper echelon, however, growth rapidly becomes less pervasive. Only about two out of every five distressed zip codes registered job growth from 2011 to 2015 and only one in five added business establishments.