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The Labor Department's monthly jobs reports omit most economically stressed demographic – Native Americans

The Stars and Stripes and tha Navajo Nation flags flying above the entrance to the Navajo National Monument in Arizona.
Paul Marshall/Yorkie Paul
The Stars and Stripes and tha Navajo Nation flags flying above the entrance to the Navajo National Monument in Arizona.

News Brief

The latest federal jobs report paints a picture of some economic recovery, albeit not across racial and ethnic lines. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly analysis does not tell us anything about Native Americans, the most economically stressed demographic.

A new Brookings Institution analysis helps fill the data gap, finding that nearly 40% of Native Americans saw cuts in work hours or pay over the last year – higher than all other racial or ethnic groups.

Raymond Foxworth, with the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute, co-authored the Brookings report. He says it is important to note that Native Americans, as a group and across the country, were struggling economically long before the pandemic.

“They had lower than average median incomes, suffered from high rates of unemployment, high rates of food insecurity,” Foxworth said.

These hardships are a result of longtime “policies and neglect” of Native Americans, he said.

“Historically, federal policy was driven by people in Washington without tribal input or tribal concerns, and it was really thought that the federal government or outside corporations knew better how to stimulate and grow Native American economies,” he said.

That has had a devastating impact on Indigenous people.

One solution is increasing federal financial support for Native communities. COVID-19 relief packages have earmarked money for this, as has the $1 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure package President Biden signed into law this week. But given the historical underinvestment in tribal communities, Foxworth says, there needs to be a lot more.

“It is time to move away from the paternalistic framework that has dominated federal policy in general. We have to really value the knowledge and the perspective of Native people and Native leaders,” he said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Robyn Vincent
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