Native Americans Experience An Employment Crisis Four Times Worse Than The Recession


The employment rate for Native Americans in the prime working ages of 25 to 54 years old, or the ratio of those who are employed compared to the entire population, was less than 65 percent between 2009 and 2011, 13.4 points lower than for white workers, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. For all workers, the Great Recession meant a 3.1 percentage point decline in the employment rate – meaning that the gap between Native Americans and whites is four times worse than the impact of the crisis felt by all workers.

Looking at the unemployment rate, or the share of workers who can’t find a job but are seeking work, the Native American rate averaged 14.6 percent between 2009 and 2011, nearly 7 points higher than the 7.7 percent rate for white workers. Overall, Native American workers have experienced double digit unemployment rates since 2008 even though the rate for workers overall peaked at just 9.1 percent in 2010.

The report looks at various factors that might help explain why Native Americans have a much harder time finding employment than their white peers: living on or near reservations that tend to have more depressed economies, less educational attainment, facility with speaking English, or having a disability. While these factors do have an impact on whether a Native American is more or less likely to be employed — education has the biggest effect, as getting an advanced degree raises the odds of getting a job sevenfold and GED holders have 50 percent better odds – these factors still can’t fully explain the gap. The report controls for all of them and still finds that Native Americans with similar characteristics as other white workers will have 31 percent lower odds of being employed. “In other words, even when Native Americans are the same age and sex, have the same education level and marital status, reside in a city in the same state, and are similar to whites on all of the other variables in the analysis, Native Americans still have 31 percent lower odds of being employed than whites,” the author notes.

And while more education may help alleviate the problem, the country is disinvesting in education among Native American communities. Sequestration ravaged schools on or near reservations, with some having to shut down outright and others laying off staff or eliminating extracurricular activities.

The cuts came after a long history of low funding, and the impact shows in the achievement gap between Native American students and white students. While other racial groups have made progress in closing that gap over the past decade or so, the gap for Native American students has actually widened. The gaps felt in middle school follow these students later in life, as students of color, including Native Americans, are less likely to be college ready than their white peers.