By Dedrick Asante Muhammed, Rogelio Tec and Kathy Ramirez
Native Americans and the Racial Wealth Divide
The United States has too often hindered Native American advancement, not advanced it. Through years of intentional governmental policies that removed lands and resources, American Indians have been separated from the wealth and assets that was rightfully theirs. Thus Native Americans, which refers to people from any of the many indigenous groups of North, Central and South America, continue to be disenfranchised through a racial wealth divide like Latinos and African Americans. Yet despite this ongoing inequality, it is also true that Native Americans have made great strides in socioeconomic advancement. Native Americans have seen decreased poverty and unemployment rates, and increased income and educational attainment over the last 25 years.
Demographics & Civil/Tribal Rights
The Native American population has grown exponentially throughout the years. The recognized population has increased from 500,000 in 1960 to 6.97 million in the United States, according to World Population Review. Along with a growing population, there has been an increase in civil and tribal rights. Thanks to legislation such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 and generations of advocacy, Native American communities have greater control over their own land and resources and have experienced an increase of federal recognition of their tribal governments. In terms of living patterns, only 20% of the U.S. American Indians and Alaska Native alone-or-in combination lived on reservations, according to the 2010 U.S. Census data. Sadly, the greatest economic disparity for Native Americans lies in reservations themselves. The median income on a reservation is $29,097, compared to the national median income for Native Americans which is $40,315.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census data, roughly seven of 10 American Indians reside in an urban area. The cities with the highest concentration of Native Americans are New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Anchorage. Alaska is the state with the highest percentage of Native Americans with 13.77%. New Mexico and South Dakota follow with 8.70% and 8.31%, respectively. While Native Americans represent only 7% and 4% of Oklahoma and Arizona’s total population, these two states have the largest Native American populations of 276,650 and 266,680, according to the Population Review.
The Native American demographic is a diverse population. Some live in urban areas, others rural, and there are varied racial makeups, with some who are card-carrying members of recognized tribes and many others who are not. Yet throughout most Native American communities, racial economic inequality is a consistent characteristic.
Based on the 2013-2017 ACS for American Indian and Alaska Native population, the median income of American Indian and Alaska Native households was $40,315 – slightly lower than the median income of African American households, which was $41,361, according to the 2018 U.S Census Bureau. The Hispanic household income for that same period was $51,450. Altogether, these numbers pale in comparison to the White household median income of $66,943.
Based on thedata from the 2018 U.S Census cited by Poverty USA, Native Americans have the highest poverty rate among all minority groups. The national poverty rate for Native Americans was at 25.4%, while Black or African American poverty rate was 20.8%. Among Hispanics, the national poverty rate was 17.6%. The White population had an 8.1% national poverty rate during the same period.
According to 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the unemployment rate for Native Americans was 6.6%. The unemployment rate for African Americans was similar at 6.5% while Hispanics had a 4.7% unemployment rate and Whites had a rate of 3.5% In terms of employment, American Indians (including Alaska Natives) have a 55.6% employment-to-population ratio while African Americans had an employment-to-population ratio of 58.39%. White Americans have an employment-to-population ratio of 60.7% and Hispanics have the highest ratio at 63.2%. In both unemployment and employment, American Indians and African Americans are the most economically marginalized groups.
Despite increases in educational attainment over the last 25 years, Native Americans have the lowest educational achievement rates in comparison to other national racial and ethnic groups. According to 2013-2017 U.S Census Bureau, 14.3% of Native Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For comparison, 15.2% of Hispanics, 20.6% of African Americans and 34.5% of Whites have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
 Asante Muhammad, Dedrick. Challenges to Native Americans Advancements: The Recession and Native Americans. District of Columbia:Institute for Policy Studies, 2009. Print.
 Data on American Indians and Alaska Natives (Native Americans) in the United States is sparse. We used the most current information we can find online.
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the Chief of Race, Wealth, and Community at NCRC.
Kathy Ramirez is a NCRC Race, Wealth and Community intern.