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Tennessee’s Growing Racial and Ethnic Diversity among 2020 Headlines

Most racial and ethnic groups in Tennessee grew in size since 2010, but the largest growth was among people who reported themselves as being of “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity and people identifying as being of “Two or More Races”. Combined, these groups accounted for 65% of the state’s 564,735-person increase over the past decade.

The new 2020 Census data released in August shows population gains are in part driven by growing racial and ethnic diversity in Tennessee and across the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau also cautioned that changes to data collection and processing played some part in the increases.

The population reported as “White alone” saw the third largest increase, growing by almost 100,000 people. The state’s population growth among this group contrasted with U.S. figures that showed the “White alone” population decreased by over 5 million people.

Figure 1: Population increased among nearly all racial and ethnic groups between 2010 and 2020 in Tennessee. 82% of the state’s 564,725-person growth since 2010 was among non-white people.

“White alone” remains the largest race or ethnic group in the state, with 4.9 million of Tennessee’s 6.91 million residents in 2020 selecting that response. “Black or African American alone” residents totaled 1.08 million and were the state’s second largest group.

In terms of population size, the rank order of race and ethnic groups in the state were largely similar to the prior decade. “American Indian and Alaska Native alone” was the only race recording a population decline this decade, and it was surpassed by “Some Other Race alone” in 2020. Details about tribal affiliations will published in a later census data release that has not yet been scheduled.

Figure 2: In 2020, “White alone” remained the largest racial and ethnic group in the state, followed by “Black or African American alone”. These two groups account for 86.6% of the state’s total population.

The net result of the past decade’s population shifts shows that the state’s two largest race groups, “White alone” and “Black or African American alone”, registered a combined decrease of -5.6 percentage points as a share of the state’s total population. “White alone” now includes 70.9% of Tennessee’s population, down from 75.6% in 2010. “Black or African American alone” population shares fell from 16.5% to 15.7% over the same period. “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity grew by 2.3 percentage points to 6.9% and remained the state’s third largest race or ethnic group.

However, the largest increase as a share of total population was among people identifying as “Two or More Races” which increased to 3.9% of the state’s total. The 2.5 percentage point gain was the largest among all race and ethnic groups.

Figure 3: Growth among the “Hispanic or Latino” ethnic group and people identifying as “Two or More Races” drove down the shares of “White alone” and “Black of African American alone” populations in 2020.

The growing number of Tennesseans who selected more than one race on the 2020 Census form equates to a 200% increase in this race category over the past decade. When considering this jump, it’s important to heed the Census Bureau’s advisory which attributes a portion of the change to new 2020 Census procedures. Improvements on the census form used to collect the race and ethnicity responses, as well as new procedures for coding ancestry and origin data are factors. The resulting statistics are a more accurate reflection of how the state’s residents self-identify.

To better understand how those changes drove increases in the multi-racial population, it’s helpful to begin by examining the state’s two largest racial groups – white and Black or African American. Among these two groups, the increases were most notable.

The “Black or African American alone” population increased by 34,381, but when tallied “in combination” with other races it grew an additional 46,049 people since 2010.

Figure 4: The population that is “Black or African American alone” or in combination grew from 1,094,696 people in 2010 to 1,175,173 to people in 2020. The majority of that increase came from people reporting Black or African American in combination with another race.

For those reporting their race as “White” in combination with other races, the growth was even more pronounced at 173,496 people. This exceeded the 99,464-person growth in the “White alone” category between 2010 and 2020.

Figure 5: People identifying as “White alone” or in combination with another race grew by 272,853 people in the past decade. Two-thirds of that pickup came people reporting that they were white in combination with other races.

Among the 270,000 Tennesseans identifying as two or more races in 2020, the largest group was white and American Indian or Alaska Native with 105,540 people. This is particularly noteworthy because “American Indian or Alaska Native alone” populations declined. White and Black or African American was the second largest group and totaled over 68,000 people.

Table 1: Five largest non-Hispanic or Latino ethnicity racial combinations for people selecting two or more races in the 2020 Census
Two or More Race Combinations Population
White; American Indian and Alaska Native 105,540
White; Black or African American 68,232
White; Some Other Race 35,322
White; Asian 30,372
White; Black or African American; American Indian and Alaska Native 6,076


Additional race and ethnicity data will be published in later 2020 Census data product releases. These will include race and ethnic group breakdowns by age, sex, householder, household type, relationship types, presence of children, family size and housing tenure. Though a release date has not been announced, the so-called Demographic and Housing Characteristics File (DHC), previously known as Summary File 1, is currently under review. The proposed table structure and geographic availability are open to public comment through October 22, 2021.