The Nation Needs to “Reckon” With the Economic Marginalization of Native Americans

Over the last two years, there has been much discussion of a national “reckoning” on race. There can be no complete reckoning without a strong analysis and substantive action to address the economic marginalization of Native Americans in 21st century America. The federal government has intentionally separated American Indians from the wealth and assets that were rightfully theirs through years of policies that stripped them of their lands and resources. 

We cannot reckon with that legacy without clear data on its effects. Yet today we see a consistent lack of information on Native Americans and their socioeconomic issues. 

In February, NCRC released an updated Native American Racial Wealth Divide Snapshot. In this snapshot, we examined data on social economic indicators like homeownership, poverty rate and education attainment for Native Americans. 

According to the US Census Bureau, the homeownership rate for Native Americans in 2017 was at 50.8%, which is higher than those of Black and Latino populations but substantially lower than the non-Hispanic white homeownership rate of 72.3%. 

2017 marked one of the lowest homeownership rates for Native Americans since the enactment of the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program of the Housing and Community Development Act in 1992. The Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program enables Native Americans to purchase homes with extremely low down payments, and covers the lender in full in the event of a foreclosure. Prior to its passage, according to the 1990 Census, Native American homeownership was 47.2%. By 2005 and 2006, Native American homeownership rates peaked at a record-high 58.2% before falling to 47.6% in 2016. While the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program apparently has provided a boost to Native American homeownership, there is still much work to do to advance homeownership rates. 

Other data indicates that Native Americans are roughly as marginalized as African Americans. Median Native American household income was $43,825, according to the 2015-2019 ACS – slightly higher than the median income of African American households, which was $41,935. White household income was about $25,000 higher than African American and Native American income at $68,785 during this time period. In 2019, African Americans and Native Americans both had an unemployment rate of 6.1%. Native Americans have the worst poverty rates and educational attainment of the major racial/ethnic categories. More than 25% of Native Americans live in poverty and only 15% have a bachelor’s degree or higher credential. 

This data shows that our country is still on the wrong path in addressing racial economic inequality. Addressing the racial wealth divide for Native Americans will require a radical shift of investment and policy. These racial economic disparities were at the heart of the founding of the nation and still run through its veins in the 21st century. Policymakers need to collect stronger data on the Native American population if they are to deliver the fundamental change required to address our nation’s first peoples’ economic challenges.

Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

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Redlining and Neighborhood Health

Before the pandemic devastated minority communities, banks and government officials starved them of capital.

Lower-income and minority neighborhoods that were intentionally cut off from lending and investment decades ago today suffer not only from reduced wealth and greater poverty, but from lower life expectancy and higher prevalence of chronic diseases that are risk factors for poor outcomes from COVID-19, a new study shows.

The new study, from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) with researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health and the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, compared 1930’s maps of government-sanctioned lending discrimination zones with current census and public health data.

Table of Content

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Redlining, the HOLC Maps and Segregation
  • Segregation, Public Health and COVID-19
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
  • Citations
  • Appendix

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