Census Bureau report highlights Indian Country

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau paints a comprehensive, and rather interesting, portrait of the 2.4 million Americans who claim American Indian or Alaska Native heritage.

"We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States," was released last Wednesday. It is based on results from the 2000 Census, in which record numbers of American Indians and Alaska Natives took part.

According to the results of the count, American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to trail behind the rest of the country in terms of poverty, education, living conditions, family situations and other socioeconomic indicators.

But the report shows some variance among tribal groups in the United States. Depending on affiliation and geographic location, some American Indians and Alaska Natives enjoyed a better lifestyle than their counterparts.

Overall, 2,447,989 Americans, or 0.87 percent of the total population, said they were American Indian or Alaska Native on the 2000 Census, which also allowed people to claim multiple races. When that figure is taken into account, the number of Natives booms to 4,315,865, or 1.53 percent of the total population.

The "We the People" report, though, is based only on singe-race Native Americans. It presents data for 10 tribal groups in the lower 48 states: Apache, Chippewa, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Iroquois, Lumbee, Navajo, Pueblo and Sioux. For Alaska Natives, data is presented on Alaskan Athabascan, Aleut, Eskimo and Tlingit-Haida populations.

Among these groupings, about 303,000 people claimed Cherokee heritage while 277,000 people claimed Navajo heritage. Among Alaska Natives, Eskimo was the largest group, with 47,000 respondents.

The report indicates that Native Americans are a young population. About 33 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are under the age of 18, compared with 26 percent of the total population.

Among American Indians, Navajo (38.6 percent) and Sioux (38.9) people had the highest percentages of young people. For Alaska Natives, 39.9 percent of Eskimos are under the age of 18, according to the data.

The report showed that American Indians and Alaska Natives had a higher percentage of homes headed by a woman with no husband present (20.7 percent) and a higher percentage of households headed by a man with no wife present (7.5 percent) than the general population. Among Sioux, Pueblo and Navajo households, the percentage of female households was greater than 25 percent.

Most Native households speak English as their only language at home, with English being the exclusive language in nearly every Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, Creek, Iroquois and Lumbee home. Navajo and Pueblo homes reported higher rates of Native language use.

According to the data, only 71 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives finished high school, compared to 80 percent of the general population. But 80 percent of Creek, Choctaw, and Iroquois had at least a high school education, while 75 percent of Alaska Natives had finished high school.

Fewer Native men (66 percent) were in the workforce compared to non-Native men (71 percent), the data showed. But about an equal amount of Native women (57 percent) as non-Native women (58 percent) were employed. Navajo men and women had the lowest labor force participation rates of all Native Americans.

For those in the labor force, Native Americans were less likely than the total population to be employed in management, professional, and related occupations, the report said. This likely contributed to a lower than average median income for Native men ($28,900) and Native women ($22,800). The national average is $37,100 for men and women $27,200 for women.

But among American Indian men, Iroquois, Cherokee, Chippewa, Choctaw, and Creek had median earnings of about $30,000. All Alaska Native men had incomes of at $33,000, according to the report.

Poverty affected 25.7 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native households, with Sioux (38.9 percent), Navajo (37.0 percent) and Apache (33.9 percent) reporting the highest rates. Poverty among Alaska Natives was 19.5 percent, lower than the American Indian rate.

Only 56 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are homeowners, the report stated, compared to 66 percent of total householders. Homeownership rates varied from 42 percent for Sioux people to 74 percent for Lumbees, while Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Lumbee, Navajo, and Pueblo people all had homeownership rates of 60 percent or higher.

Only 33.5 percent of American Indians lived on reservations, trust land or on Oklahoma tribal areas, according to the Census Bureau. A whopping 64.1 percent lived on non-tribal lands while 2.4 percent lived in Alaska Native villages.

The data for tribal and non-tribal populations showed an interesting development. American Indians who live on tribal lands do better in school and are more likely to live in family, rather than single-parent, households than those who live off tribal lands.

Likewise, homeownership rates for those living on tribal lands was greater than for those who didn't, the report showed. The difference was rather marked: 64.8 percent for those in tribal areas versus 49.3 percent outside tribal areas.

Get the Report:
We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States (February 2006)

Relevant Links:
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