Report: Indigenous women in the U.S. earn 60 cents on the dollar

In 19 of the 32 states with sufficient data, Native women are paid at least $20K less per year than white men

By: - September 13, 2021 6:30 am

By Shaun Griswold

Historic inequality for Native American women is still present in economic earnings, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Native American women are not receiving their worth from employers for their work. And it’s historically bad. “During the last decade, the gender earnings gap for Native women and white men has not improved,” researchers concluded.

Nationally, Native American women receive 60 cents for every dollar a white man makes. New Mexico was highlighted by the report for being the worst in the nation for income inequality for Native American women.White men in the state make $58,153 on a median scale. By the same metric, Native American women make $30,000, That’s a 51.6 percent gap.

The sample size in Pennsylvania was not statistically large enough to be included in the report, the document indicates.

The report addressed issues such as a concentration of low-paying jobs, unemployment and lack of full time work, a gap in education, lack of worker’s union representation, lack of health care or safety services — and violence. Researchers cite this statistic: Four in five Native American women experience domestic partner violence.

Some key findings:

  • “Alabama and Arkansas are the states where Native women have the highest earnings compared with White men, and the only two states where the earnings ratio is at or near 80 percent.
  • “New Mexico—a state with a large Native American population —has the worst earnings ratio for Native women compared with white men. Native women were paid just 51.6 percent of white men’s earnings.
  • “California—the state with the highest number of Native women—has the worst absolute gap in earnings, with Native women’s median annual earnings being $37,220 less per year than white men’s for an earnings ratio of just 52.4 percent.
  • ” Native women in Mississippi have the lowest annual median earnings for full-time, full-year work of any state at $26,471, followed by Nebraska ($28,472) and South Dakota ($29,830),” the report indicated.

When Terrelene Massey (Diné) accepted her first job as a lawyer, she said took a pay cut, despite experience in policy work.

“I guess that’s kind of expected, unfortunately, with lawyers, with first year lawyers,” she said.

She is now the executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, advocating for greater equity in New Mexico.

The report was shocking, she said.

“Having lived in New Mexico for the past 17 years or so now, we always pride ourselves as being a good place for Native Americans to live because of our relationship with the tribes and pueblos,” she said. “Our policies are usually pretty progressive and on par.”

In Albuquerque, the city with the state’s largest Native American population, businesses working with city government are required to submit a report determining if there is a gap in pay based on gender.

“If businesses are paying men and women equitably, a 5% preference is given in competitive solicitations,” Dawn Begay said. She works with the city’s Office of Native American Affairs and boosts Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s efforts on this front. The city’s move prompted Bernalillo County and the Water Utility Authority to adopt the same goal. “Now all three governments will give preference to companies paying men and women equally,” she said.

Still, statewide, New Mexico needs to do more to support Native American women, Massey argued. This includes buy-in from tribes.

“There’s a need for jobs. People are always trying to find ways to make economic situations better. It’s just not the state,” she said. “I do think tribal governments also need to do the same. And I don’t I don’t think they do that very well.”

Massey’s organization is also lobbying for child care services that can support working mothers and trim their expenses.

“This is an issue for all of New Mexico, in terms of having affordable and quality child care available to families,” she said. “You know what this report shows is that women who are single-parent families and who are working, one of the issues that they face is the lack of child care, and this is really apparent on tribal reservations as well.”

The next legislative session will likely see another bill to give statewide support for workers that need time off for child care, she said, “so families can have a safe location and safe place for their kids when they go to work.”

Shaun Griswold is a reporter for Source New Mexico, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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