Remember Native Americans on Labor Day
Labor Day is a good time to look at how Native American people fare in the U.S. labor market. As Americans ponder the current economy and their own job market, the particularly difficult employment situation for Native Americans is not on their radar. Economic studies and headlines report dips and gains in unemployment yet neglect to report the continuing job and income disparities on the reservations. Here are the facts:
In July 2013, the national unemployment rate was 7.7% (not seasonally adjusted). Joblessness in 41 areas of the U.S. reached 10%.
In 1932 of the Great Depression, unemployment soared past 20% — the worst America has seen. But not really…
Crippling unemployment has existed in the U.S. for centuries – an every day fact of life since the start of the reservation system. The first Indian reservation on record comes from the Virginia colony in 1658, when the Virginia General Assembly voted on a land reserve for the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes – part of the Powhatan Confederacy and Pocahontas legend.
Today, unemployment for Native Americans living on reservations that NRC serves is 20% to 85%.
Native Americans with jobs have also fared poorly in terms of earnings potential.
According to the U.S. Census, up until at least 2007, U.S. businesses were 99% less likely to be owned and operated by Native people (page 13). Among the few Native-owned businesses, 78% earned less than $50,000 per year and 84% had fewer than 10 employees (pages 14-15).
Only 28% of American Indian and Alaska Natives are employed in management, professional and related occupations, according to the 2010 Census.
On the reservations NRC serves, many people work full-time yet still fall below poverty level. What is wrong with this picture?
I hope that employers in the United States can look at this and be open-minded about giving Native Americans and people from all cultures a chance to serve, to earn and to contribute to a rich diversity in the workplace. Everyone deserves a chance, and sometimes all it takes to change a life is a job.