Over the last six months, the American Indian OIC has been working to better understand the prevalence of unemployment among Minnesota’s Native people. As a community-based nonprofit focused on workforce development, we frequently hear of economic disparities between American Indians and other populations. However, only recently were we able to gain firm data from the State’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED) validating the seriousness of the issue.

“21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives
aged 16 to 65 are out of work.”

According to MN DEED, 51% of American Indians of age to work are without a job. Specifically, this means that 21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives aged 16 to 65+ are out of work. Although the state has supported thousands of American Indians over the last two years with programs such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Heading Home, few people have been helped with direct employment placement programs that resulted in jobs, much less jobs with livable wages.   In fact, in these programs the number of people who gained jobs within a year after being in the program resulted in a job change of 5% – meaning only 342 additional people gained jobs over a two year period. More importantly, of those who were employed prior to being a part of the program, their salaries moved from $7,504 to $9,158 – a gain of $1,654 annually, signaling that these programs made little change in a family’s ability to secure economic stability.

Assuming that the programs mentioned above provided a variety of other supportive services families need such as transportation, child care, etc., it would be favorable if Native people had access to other programs that were specifically focused on job training and employment placement. However, when reviewing the data for the past two years, only 379 adults throughout the entire state – an average of 189 yearly – were helped with specialized job placement service programs funded by MN DEED.   Of those that were helped, more held jobs after being in the program, but their salaries were consistently lower than before they started.

For AIOIC, the next question was how can we change this situation? As an agency that works to build employment opportunities, we have some ideas, but we felt that the best source would come from the community itself.   Recently, AIOIC invited both employed and unemployed American Indians to participate in a listening session. At this meeting, we presented the data above and asked only two questions: 1) Based on this data, what suggestions do you have to improve employment and 2) if we were able to implement priority suggestions, how would you engage the community to take advantage of these opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the community was just as informed about the strengths and challenges they face as those of us offering workforce development programs. Felony convictions, lack of child care, lack of transportation, and lack of good housing were a few of the challenges mentioned. However, participants offered more insight into what could be done to address the jobless problem, much of which involved engagement. They suggested that we work to help define careers, explain why jobs are valuable, and offer more locations for GED and more opportunity for job training. Their suggestions for engagement were to train program staff on motivational interviewing, develop leadership skills among participants, hold monthly support groups, and offer paid on-the-job experiences with area employers. In addition, they would mandate sobriety, set and celebrate goals, and help people understand how they represent their community. We couldn’t have agreed more with their statements.

Overall, it seems evident that more actual job placement resources need to be available to Native people in Minnesota. Without investment, the possibility of bridging the economic disparity gap is nonsensical. In addition, our hope is to find opportunities to expand our programs to address much of what we and the community know to be true, to have a broader investment in people when they walk in the door. Many people are not ready to transition from joblessness or reservation life to job placement. They need further academic support, they need to engage in leadership and personal development, they need paid, on-the-job training experiences, and they need a broader sense of community to work towards and celebrate their successes.

In partnership with the Northwest Indian OIC, the American Indian OIC of Minneapolis is working to gain the attention of the State to improve career training and job placement services for Minnesota’s American Indians. The commissioner of MN DEED and staff of the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership have begun playing a more active role in concert with our organization. However, Minnesota’s Natives have been left out of state plans focused on jobs and training. At a recent State-Regional Talent and Workforce Development Forum, hosted by MN DEED in partnership with the Metropolitan Council and Greater MSP, state economic development leaders convened to identify shared priorities and strategies to grow the state’s economy through talent development and other initiatives. A handout at the meeting presented unemployment and wage data among minority populations as a potential workforce of the future; however, American Indians were not even listed. When questioned about its absence, the response was, “they are statistically insignificant.”

“….they are statistically insignificant.”

If you disagree with this assertion, and like us, you believe that you are significant, that people in your community should be considered in state plans for talent development through jobs and training, please contact the honorable Governor, Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/ and let them know your first name, the city you live in, your Nation, and that you and your community are significant and need to be recognized in the planning of Minnesota’s workforce development.

For more information, contact Mitzi Hobot, 612.341.3358, x110