The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its American Community Survey that measured poverty rates by race from 2007 to 2011.
Two race groups exceeded the national poverty rate of 14.3 percent by more than 10 percentage points: American Indian and Alaska Natives at 27 percent and black or African-American at 25.8 percent. Rates for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders were also above the national rate at 17.6 percent, while rates for people who identified as white and Asian were lower than the overall poverty rate at 11.6 and 11.7 percent respectively.
The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives living below the federal poverty line was the greatest in Rapid City, South Dakota, home to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, at 50.9 percent.
On Pine Ridge, unemployment is 80 percent, and per capita income fluctuates between $4,000 and $6,000. Out of the estimated 400 to 500 homes on reservation, 150 houses and trailers are without running water or electricity.
And although the Oglala Lakota people own and operate a casino—the Prairie Wind Casino, the revenue stream it brings is not enough to provide adequate housing or services to its members.
“The tribe itself has absolutely no money. No capital. [We’re] just surviving,” Oglala District Chairman Floyd Brings Plenty told Indian Country Today Media Network. “[We] really do not have the resources.”
In winter, people struggle just to stay warm in what is often dilapidated housing, Brings Plenty said. “I’ve seen a lot of them put in their own wood stove because it’s the only way to keep warm,” he said. “[The stoves] are all over the place.”
Located about 80-miles southeast of Mount Rushmore in the remote Badlands, Pine Ridge is far too geographically isolated to achieve financial success like many coastal tribes and those near larger cities, said Nathan Bruce Duthu, a member of United Houma Nation of Louisiana and lawyer and professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth College.
“It has been very hard for [other] tribes to develop the conditions for being successful because of their limited options,” he told ICTMN. “It is just simply a major challenge to attract industry [to isolated reservations].”
Poverty rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives alone in the 10 cities most populated by the race include: Minneapolis, Minnesota at 48.3 percent; Shiprock, New Mexico at 39.6 percent; Gallup, New Mexico and Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico both at 31.8 percent; Tuscon, Arizona at 31 percent; Farmington, New Mexico at 29.6 percent; Denver,Colorado at 29.1 percent; and Phoenix, Arizona at 28.9 percent; San Antonio Texas at 28.5 percent; and Tuba, Arizona at 28 percent.