Equality Equation

Equality Equation

Urban League of Greater Chattanooga releases its inaugural State of Black Chattanooga Report

Land. Labor. Capital. Individually each is a source of power. Combined, they become a force that affects the course of history. 

In Chattanooga, as in the United States, African Americans’ access to land ownership, lucrative employment, and credit to increase wealth have been systematically limited. The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga recently completed a six-month study of many facets of Black life to ascertain how deep divides are between Blacks and Whites. Their report, the State of Black Chattanooga, presents a deeply researched, sober picture of the greatest challenges facing our city. 

“Black Chattanoogans experience only 60 percent of the well-being outcomes that White residents enjoy,” says Candy Johnson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga. “From opportunities for career advancement to health and from home values to educational attainment, we needed this report to help leaders in our city understand that equity and equality are bigger than having a seat at the table. This is all about land, labor, and capital. We – Black Chattanoogans – don’t have parity – or even near parity – in any category.”

The Urban League is committed to increasing economic opportunity for African Americans. While most economic development organizations focus broadly, the Urban League brings a depth of understanding about the overall outcomes of Black people. 

“Everyday I wake up thinking about how we improve economic and social outcomes for people of color in Chattanooga,” Johnson says. “Blacks have suffered disproportionately during COVID and we know that policy is sometimes driven by crisis. I hope that our findings will move policymakers to invest ARP dollars in ways that address systemic inequality.”

Key Findings


  • In 2020 roughly one in five Black Chattanoogan mortgage applicants were denied a mortgage; compared to roughly three in 25 White Chattanoogan    mortgage applicants. The disparities persist even when controlling for income and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Data show Black-owned businesses are similarly denied commercial mortgages at higher rates than White business applicants. 
  • Black homeownership in Chattanooga is declining rapidly. There was an 18 percent decrease in Black home ownership in the Chattanooga MSA from 2005 to 2015. 
  • In the city of Chattanooga, the median Black home value is 62% of the median white home value. 


  • Considering the overall strength of the area’s economy in recent years, the lagging income of African Americans is extraordinary: The median Black family income ($46,975) is less than half the median White family income ($86,100) in Hamilton County. 
  • Half of Black Chattanoogans work in sectors considered “less secure” and therefore acutely affected by recession, automation, and technology displacement. 


  • While nearly a third of the city’s population is African American, Black employer-owned firms (those with employees) make up only 2.2 percent of more than 5,000 such firms in the city. 
  • These Black-owned businesses represent only 0.6 percent of total jobs in these types of firms, 0.2 percent of total sales, and 0.4 percent of profits. 
  • During the COVID pandemic, Black-owned businesses closed at twice the rate of their non-minority counterparts. 
  • Black and Hispanic female founders received less than half a percent (0.43%) of total venture capital investment. 

“These disparities hurt everyone in our community,” Johnson says. “If Black poverty were lowered to the rate of White poverty, we would add $93 million to the local economy annually. We have to decide what kind of city we want to be. Will we accept the data and work on the systemic level to improve it? Will we build a city that works for people and not just institutions?

“The State of Black Chattanooga helps establish the Urban League as a leader in economic development, particularly as it relates to minorities. From now on when Chattanooga leaders need resources or guidance about economic equity, they can look to a minority-led, minority-focused organization for leadership.”

Download the State of Black Chattanooga from the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.