By Courtney Connley
Though Indigenous people are the original stewards of American land, data shows they’ve been left behind when it comes to economic advancement. In fact, Native women today working full-time earn just $0.57 for every dollar paid to white men. And when including the salary of Native women who work part-time, this number drops to an average of $0.51, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Over the course of a 40-year career, NWLC calculates that this gap amounts to $1,151,880 in lost wages for Native women.
If today’s wage gap does not close, the average Native woman will have to work until she is 90 to catch up to what a white man earned by the time he’s 60. “Equal pay isn’t just about equal pay for equal work,” United States Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland said in a tweet, “but ensuring that all women have access to roles and resources to reach financial independence.”
For Native women and other individuals who live in Native nations, progress towards economic mobility has been extremely slow. Currently, Native individuals make up less than 3% of the U.S. population and are affiliated with hundreds of different tribal nations who each have different pay gaps, reports LeanIn and McKinsey & Company. While this small population size makes it difficult to gather research on this community and the solutions needed to close this gap, the limited data still shows that greater government investments would help.
For instance, research from the Brookings Institution finds that remote work would be beneficial to tribal communities because it’d allow Native people to work in a range of career fields while staying close to their native land. But, due to decades of underinvestment from the government, studies show that many Native communities have little to no access to the internet, making it difficult to take advantage of remote roles. As a result, Native people today are overrepresented in low-paying frontline jobs that often can’t be done from home, and underrepresented in occupations that require a degree and are often more high-paying and remote. This in turn makes it difficult for Native entrepreneurs to build opportunities within their tribe and for educated Native people to stay culturally invested in their community once they start their careers.
“For Native nations as a whole, population loss weakens their ability to operate as sovereign political entities,” researchers Matthew Gregg and Robert Maxim write in their Brookings Institution report. They add that “remote work has the potential to bring new economic opportunity” to tribal communities, which is why it’s “urgent for the federal government to live up to its trust and treaty obligations to Native nations, particularly in the areas of economic development and education.”
While the CARES Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included provisions to expand internet access to Native communities, experts say these investments aren’t nearly enough. To help improve infrastructure and economic opportunities for Native people, Chief has compiled a list of organizations you can support today.