Headlines last week after the release of Bureau of Labor Statistics data told a story. “Amazing jobs report,” Politico said. CNBC said the report showed a “surprisingly powerful gain.” And CNN added this take: “Here’s what makes the jobs report ‘shocking’.”
Even President Joe Biden celebrated. “This morning’s report crowns my first year as president,” he said. “And over that period, our economy created 6.6 million jobs, or 6.6 million jobs. If you can’t remember another year when so many people went to work in this country, there’s a reason: it never happened.
But for Indigenous people, the numbers show the job market is leaving Indigenous people behind, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.
“While the nation’s highest unadjusted unemployment rate was 4.4% in January, unemployment among Native American workers was an extraordinarily high 11.1%,” write Robert Maxim, Randall Akee and Gabriel R Sanchez. “Nearly two years into the recovery, Native American workers face a labor market that would be considered abysmal if it mirrored the entire economy.”
But the report is also striking because the data is now available.
“This was the first time, in my opinion, a release of historical data,” said Maxim, a senior research associate at Brookings in Washington, DC and a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its labor report but contains no information on Native American workers. This means that there was a gap in the way the economy worked because it excluded Aboriginal people in general.
“It has largely left us out of the discussion about the state of the labor market,” Maxim said.
The Brookings report shows that Native Americans had a higher unemployment rate than other racial groups before the pandemic, “with an unemployment rate of 7.5% in February 2020. As the pandemic took hold, the unemployment rate of Native Americans jumped to an astonishing 28.6% – a level comparable to national unemployment during the Great Depression.
Even with the recovery, Native Americans have an unemployment rate “that’s two and a half times higher than the nation as a whole,” Maxim said. These could be considered “crisis levels,” he said.
Maxim said one of the purposes of the analysis was to highlight the problem of measuring unemployment and to show that “natives have had a much tougher time with this pandemic than the United States as a whole. “.
Health disparities, amplified by the pandemic, lead to poorer economic outcomes. He said: “If you’re not healthy enough to work, if you’re just trying to stay alive, you can’t even think about your economic well-being. You’re just trying to survive.”
It is precisely this difficulty that emerges from the figures on employment.
Beyond the January jobs news, the Brookings article explores improving data quality in economic reports.
“I mentioned in the article that this data only identifies people who uniquely identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. And why is it important? Well, 61% of Indigenous people identify with two or more races, that’s the highest of any racial or ethnic group,” Maxim said. “You’re actually excluding three out of five Aboriginal people in the data for them.”
He said it was a lot like skipping states and ignoring all data.
“People would say that’s of course not representative,” he said.
This calls for the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to rethink their data collection. “Now it’s time to ask this larger question about how we as a country think about Indigenous peoples,” he said.
— Indian country today is an independent, non-profit multimedia information company covering tribes and indigenous peoples across the Americas.