For Immediate Release
Katie Fitzpatrick, Communications Manager
In September of 2015, a federal report was released examining the median household income for various racial groups in Minnesota. The report indicated that the median household income for African-Americans in Minnesota had contracted by nearly 3% from 2013 to 2014. The African-American community was justifiably outraged and their local leadership condemned the Governor and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for being ineffectual in their attempts to address the needs of their community. In response to this very real and very serious issue, Governor Dayton instructed DEED to form a new office to address this problem and last month the Office of Career and Business Opportunity was created. Additionally, yesterday Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk suggested that if a special session were held, the legislature should consider approving measures that “focus on challenges facing the black community in Minnesota.”
As a leader in education and workforce development, and in observation of American Indian Heritage Month, the American Indian OIC (AIOIC) feels compelled to speak up. How is the Native American community fairing within this seemingly prosperous state economy – one that boasts a current unemployment rate of 3.7%? If the numbers were bad, what type of response would the Governor, or legislature, or DEED generate on behalf of the American Indian community? Would they choose to invest new resources? Would the Governor suggest the creation of a new state office on behalf of the American Indian community as well? Would a special session focus on challenges facing the American Indian community?
To answer these questions, the AIOIC approached DEED’s Commissioner, Katie Clark Sieben, and its Labor Market Information Director, Steve Hine, for help finding more information. Mr. Hine dug deeper into the US Census Bureau report and was able to find economic information pertaining to the state’s American Indian community. The following was revealed:
– The median household income for American Indian families in the state of Minnesota is $32,000. (Incidentally, the established Federal Poverty Line is a household income of $24,250 for a family of four.)
– The unemployment rate for the American Indian population of Minnesota is 10.8%- nearly three times that of Minnesota’s overall unemployment rate.
– 40.8% of the Native population is considered to be “not in the labor force” – and therefore not tabulated in the employment data because they are jobless and are not currently looking for work.
According to this data, 10% of the American Indian population is officially considered unemployed, while another 40% of working-age Natives are not even in the labor force. Essentially 1 in 2 American Indians in Minnesota are jobless.
Furthermore, the data point noting that 40.8% of American people “not in the workforce” was identified as a problematic statistic. This point refers to those individuals in the community who do not have jobs and are not actively looking for one. The reasons why can vary. Some might be what is referred to as “discouraged workers” who do not believe there are meaningful jobs to be found and have dropped out of the labor pool. This number might also include American Indian adults who are financially independent and simply do not need a job at this time. However, with an annual median household income of just $32,000, it would seem this portion of the community is likely very small.
If these numbers are indeed accurate, then how can this be acceptable to state officials? Through the discussions that were held between the American Indian OIC, Commissioner Clark Sieben, and Mr. Hine, DEED indicated that they too are troubled by this information. “While the emphasis in the media has been on black median income, there are a number of sources that highlight Minnesota’s Native population including the American Community Survey census data released last month,” said Hine. “The state recognizes that significant employment disparities exist and that previous efforts to address them haven’t been enough – this will be the focus of DEED’s new Office of Career and Business Opportunity, which will continue to work with the AIOIC and numerous other organizations that provide support for populations of color in Minnesota.”
What the American Indian OIC proposes now is action. “Action is absolutely required on the part of the Governor, the legislature, and DEED to work in concert with the American Indian community to begin to officially identify, tabulate, and address the economic disparities currently affecting our people. It is time to demand action by the state government to address our needs the same as they would for any other population here in Minnesota,” said Joe Hobot, President and CEO of American Indian OIC. “For all of our non-Indigenous supporters, those who sympathize and support the American Indian people of Minnesota- join us. Contact Governor Dayton, Senator Bakk, and Commissioner Clark Sieban and let them know that you support an economy that works on behalf of all Minnesotans.”