Large Employment Gap for American Indians in Wisconsin
November was Native American Heritage Month, but for most of the month all we have heard about was the mascot issue and casinos. The national stories about the “code-talkers” during World War II were a welcome exception to the dearth of positive stories about American Indians during the first half of the month, though those stories drew attention to just a very brief glimpse of Indian history and contributions.
In addition to wishing that the media would shed more light on Native Americans’ contributions to American history and culture, I would like to hear more about the economic challenges facing American Indians, particularly those living in “Indian country.” The following graphic, prepared by my colleague Tamarine Cornelius, shows that the unemployment rate for Native Americans in Wisconsin is almost twice the rate for non-Hispanic whites, and the poverty rate is more than two and a half times as high for Native Americans (25.3% vs. 9.8%, based on American Community Survey data for 2012).
I was pleased to recently come across a couple of documents by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that shine a little bit of light on those topics. The graph in this brief EPI paper shows how Native Americans took a bigger employment hit than whites. As their analysis explains: “Though the unemployment rate for whites peaked at 9.1 percent in the first half of 2010, Native Americans have endured five years of unemployment rates over 10 percent. In the first half of 2013, the Native American unemployment rate was 11.3 percent.”
Another short EPI resource provides an interactive map of state-by-state data on the gap between employment of whites and Native Americans, based on an analysis of employment data from 2009 through 2011. Although there is a substantial gap in every state, it varies greatly – from 5.1 percentage points in Mississippi to nearly 33 percentage points in South Dakota. That jobs gap was 16.4 percentage points in Wisconsin, compared to a national average of 13.4.
Although minorities experience a disproportionate share of job losses during economic downturns, the job gap generally shrinks as the total unemployment rate declines. With that in mind, the brief EPI analysis suggests that federal policymakers should keep striving to fight unemployment and should fund infrastructure investments that can produce good-paying jobs for a broad range of workers.
I think it’s also very important that as federal lawmakers make policy choices relating to the unfinished 2013-14 budget and revisit sequestration, they should keep in mind the very high unemployment rates in many rural areas, and especially among Native Americans.