Summary: The unemployment rate among Native Americans in August was 4.9%, which is still more than a percentage point higher than the 3.8% for the US as a whole. The differences between Native American workers’ jobs and white workers’ jobs are a significant predictor of this racial divide. Remote employment could open up new economic opportunities for Native American communities. Native Americans face structural and professional barriers that limit their ability to work remotely. The pandemic’s impact on remote work has decreased from its early peak, although racial inequities in remote work activities have persisted.
Native Americans’ unique occupational distribution impacts their capacity for remote labour. Native Americans tend to be underrepresented in jobs requiring a college degree and overrepresented in some frontline jobs that can’t often be done remotely. We examined the CPS data for two-time frames: the first pandemic year (from May 2020 to April 2021) and the second pandemic year from May 2021 to April 2022. Native Americans are more likely than other racial groups to live in congested dwellings and have fewer areas that could be used as offices. Remote work can help with family and caregiver responsibilities. On the other hand, these obligations can also have a detrimental effect on productivity.
The inability of Native Americans to work remotely may be a result of the discrimination they experience in the labour market. The BLS can keep increasing the amount of data available about Native American workers. Policymakers should continue to work to support economic diversity and density within Native countries. A “race to the top”-style challenge award could help promote diversity in Native nations’ economic activity. Congress needs to do more to adequately fund tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and non-tribal institutions that serve Native Americans. More must be done to make it easier for Native Americans who don’t reside on tribal property or work there to find better-paying employment.
Even if the job market is not as active as it was earlier in the year, it is expanding significantly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, despite this growth, there is still a significant disparity between the economic well-being of various racial and ethnic groups. The unemployment rate among Native Americans in August was 4.9%, which, despite being much lower than its early epidemic peak of 28.6%, is still more than a percentage point higher than the 3.8% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the US as a whole.
In this article, we will discuss how Native Americans’ capacity to work remotely compared to other racial and ethnic groups has impacted how successfully they have obtained jobs during the previous two years.
Native Americans used remote work owing to the pandemic at a rate eight percentage points lower than white workers in early summer 2020, around the time of the COVID-19 economic crisis. By early summer 2022, Native Americans were still working remotely owing to the pandemic at a rate two percentage points lower than white workers. As workers returned to the workplace in 2021 and 2022, that disparity narrowed but never vanished.
Native American workers’ different jobs from white workers’ jobs are a significant predictor of this racial divide; we find that job differences account for almost all of the total work gap during the first year of pandemic-era data. However, as the pandemic spread, occupation’s importance in explaining this disparity shrank, and other factors may have started to take on a more prominent role.
This analysis implies that Native American workers are being left behind as research emphasises the advantages of remote labour.
Remote employment can benefit native communities by reducing outmigration
Reduced exposure to COVID-19, an improved work-life balance, quicker commutes, and higher employee morale and job satisfaction are all advantages of remote work.
However, these advantages are not equally distributed among various demographic groupings. Martine Haas, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has pointed out that some hybrid work situations may harm women. Less research has been done on the racial inequities of remote employment, even though media outlets and researchers have started highlighting its advantages.
Remote employment could open up new economic opportunities for Native American communities. This is significant because, unlike many other groups, Native Nations face a threat to their cultural survival due to outmigration. Out-migration makes it more challenging for individual tribal members, especially across numerous generations, to preserve ties to their culture and fellow residents. Population decline affects native nations, making it harder for them to function as independent political units.
Remote work offers the ability to address these issues by giving Native American workers new possibilities to connect with jobs without leaving their community and for Native-owned businesses to communicate with workers while remaining rooted in the ancestral territories of their tribes.
Native Americans face structural and professional barriers that limit their ability to work remotely
The pandemic’s impact on remote work has decreased from its early peak, although racial inequities in remote work activities have persisted.
Since May 2020, respondents to the Current Population Survey (CPS) of the Census Bureau, which is used to determine the official unemployment rate, have been asked if they have worked remotely for pay in the previous month due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Researchers and decision-makers can better grasp how the epidemic has changed the workplace thanks to statistics on remote employment.
Figure 1 uses a three-month rolling average to represent the proportion of employed workers that worked remotely due to the epidemic from May 2020 to June 2022.
2. According to the data, remote employment has continued to fall after the pandemic’s early peak. This loss is not caused by higher labour force participation rates but rather by a sharp dip in the number of employees who claim they worked remotely because of the disease.
We continue to observe racial differences in remote work activities throughout this time. Compared to other racial groupings, Native American workers were allowed to work remotely 23% of the time from May to July 2020, which was eight percentage points less than white workers. The percentage difference between Native American and white workers who work remotely has been reduced by half over time. However, the share of Native American workers who do so has continuously been lower than that of both white and black workers.
Previous studies have revealed that Native Americans’ unique occupational distribution impacts their capacity for remote labour. Cultural elements influence native American employees’ choice of employment, but opportunities they have access to—or don’t have access to—also play a vital role in this differentiation. Native Americans tend to be underrepresented in jobs requiring a college degree and overrepresented in some frontline jobs that can’t often be done remotely (which are more likely to be done remotely).
We computed the Native American remote work rate assuming that Native American workers held the same distribution of employment as white workers to highlight the significance of occupational disparities in explaining the observed racial gap in remote work. This method produces a counterfactual racial remote work gap (or “job-adjusted”). Additionally, we examined the CPS data for two-time frames: the first pandemic year (from May 2020 to April 2021) and the second pandemic year (from May 2021 to April 2022). (from May 2021 to April 2022). We divided the data based on these somewhat arbitrary dates to see if the relationship between occupation and remote work had changed as the pandemic recovery progressed.
As depicted in Figure 2, inequalities in Native Americans’ job dispersion during the first period accounted for almost all of the racial disparities in remote employment (May 2020 to April 2021). Therefore, there would not have been a racial disparity in remote work during this time if Native American workers held the same job distribution as white workers.
The native-white remote work divide is now half as significant as it was in the first period studied (May 2021 to April 2022). Additionally, the majority of the remaining gap is no longer explained by occupational disparities; during this time, about one-fourth of the native-white remote work gap is unaccounted for. What other factors might assist in explaining the discrepancy if the disparities in employment that Native American and white workers hold can’t fully account for the difference in remote work rates?
There are several potential causes, albeit it is impossible to pinpoint them with absolute certainty. Researchers Francesco Armillei, Tito Boeri, and Thomas Le Barbanchon found that three factors, including the structural conditions of a worker’s home, their access to the tools and furniture they need to work from home, and their family circumstances, all contribute to the explanation of inequality in remote work. Native American workers encounter more significant difficulties than workers of other races in all three areas.
For instance, Native Americans are more likely than other racial groups to live in congested dwellings and have fewer areas that could be used as offices. Inadequate construction may result in Native American workers facing difficulties with soundproofing or lighting that make remote work challenging and space-constrained.
Native American laborers confront infrastructure deficiencies beyond housing. While numerous federal programs are intended to assist with broadband access in Native American communities, the lack of density on many reservations—rural ones in particular—makes broadband prohibitively expensive. Native American areas are underserved by broadband internet providers. Although the CARES Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act have measures to provide internet connection in rural Native communities, these laws alone cannot address the issue due to the size of the investment required. 3 Additionally, some Native American homes do not have computers and may only use mobile devices to access the internet, which severely restricts their capacity to work remotely.
Additionally, Native Americans are more likely than other workers to live in multigenerational housing, which might make distance work more difficult. While remote work can help with family and caregiver responsibilities, on the other hand, these obligations can also have a detrimental effect on productivity.
Finally, it is impossible to ignore the impact of employment discrimination when examining Native Americans’ access to occupations with remote work opportunities. Numerous researchers have discovered that even after adjusting for educational differences, Native Americans frequently hold jobs requiring less education and have poorer labour market outcomes. The latter effect is especially pronounced in states where Native Americans comprise a higher percentage of the population. The inability of Native Americans to work remotely may be a result of the discrimination they experience in the labour market.
In conclusion, the epidemic appears to have consolidated existing labour market disparities rather than creating new ones for Native American workers to interact with remote employers. This shows how critical it is for the federal government to fulfil its commitments under trust and treaties to Native nations, particularly in economic growth and education.
Continued federal investment will be necessary to increase Native Americans’ access to remote jobs
Remote and hybrid work environments seem to be here to stay as the pandemic develops. Policymakers must make strategic investments on behalf of Native American employees to secure just and equitable access to these work settings and their benefits.
The BLS can keep increasing the amount of data available about Native American workers. The BLS, for instance, releases monthly data on Native American unemployment (together with data on other races). Still, these publications might benefit from including additional labour market factors, such as the racial discrepancy in remote work. Increasing the availability of information about Native Americans’ working circumstances would be a slight improvement.
Other obstacles to remote labour in distant tribal areas, such as high-speed broadband connectivity and housing infrastructure, are being addressed mainly by Congress’ surge in pandemic-era expenditure. However, these obstacles are the product of centuries of insufficient federal spending and will call for further, consistent investment over the years or decades. 4 To increase investments in housing and digital infrastructure, lawmakers may consider a new infrastructure bill with a tribal focus.
Another significant impediment to Native Americans working remotely is the nature of the industries and jobs found on tribal lands. Recent years have seen considerable federal funding for Native nations, including $100 million for the agency’s Indigenous Communities initiative and $130 million for three Native-led projects through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC). Policymakers should continue to work to support economic diversity and density within Native countries. A “race to the top”-style challenge award could be one strategy, as first proposed by UCLA academic Randall Akee, to promote diversity in Native nations’ economic activity. For some Native countries, a “Native Homeland Economic Development Grant” the size of the BBBRC could be revolutionary. Policymakers might also make supplementary expenditures to support Native American workers in developing their digital abilities and equip them with the resources they need to succeed in remote work settings.
Another area where the federal government has failed to live up to its promises made to tribes in treaties is education. Congress needs to do more to adequately fund tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and non-tribal institutions that serve Native Americans, in addition to pre-K through 12 education (NASNTIs). Evidence suggests that TCUs and NASNTIs can offer Native American students a college atmosphere that is culturally relevant and supportive so they can succeed. As was previously said, employment that allows remote work is more accessible to employees with a college degree. In addition to providing education to Native American students, TCUs and NASNTIs are anchor institutions for Native nations. As a result, the industry mix in these areas will be diversified with more investment in their expanded responsibilities as economic and community development anchors.
Last but not least, more has to be done to make it easier for Native Americans who don’t reside on tribal property or work there to find better-paying employment that is more likely to offer a remote work option. Unfortunately, the American government’s past with Native Americans in urban areas has been harmful. Given this, the federal government ought to increase support for organizations in metropolitan areas that are managed by Native Americans and that provide workforce development services, like the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center in Minneapolis. These kinds of Native American-led programs might be scaled up to provide more culturally relevant services as well as give job seekers access to more extensive networks of Native American workers and employers.
In conclusion, remote labor offers significant advantages, but it also gauges how easily particular groups can find well-paying employment. Native Americans continue to encounter difficulties in the American labor market, as evidenced by the fact that they continuously have the least access to remote work.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network