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Poverty in Indian Country still higher than average
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The number of Native Americans living in poverty and without health insurance remains sky-high, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.

Based on a three-year average, 24.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives lived in poverty from 2003 through 2004. This rate was not much different from poverty among African-Americans (24.4 percent) and Hispanics (22.1 percent).

But it more than twice the poverty rate of Whites (10.5 percent) and more than twice the poverty rate of Asians (10.6 percent) for the same period, the Census Bureau reported.

The percentage of Native Americans without insurance was also high. Based on a three-year average, a whopping 29.0 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives did not have health coverage, a rate surpassed only by Hispanics (32.6 percent).

In comparison, the percentage Whites without insurance was 14.6 percent while among Asians it was 18.0 percent.

Native American households reported an median income of $33,132 from 2002 through 2004. This was higher than the median for African-American households ($30,355) and statistically no different from the median for Hispanic households ($34, 299)

But it was much lower than the medians for White households ($46,971) and much lower than Asian households ($56,664).

The figures contained in "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004" show that the economic status of American Indians hasn't changed much since the start of the Bush administration in 2001. Reports have repeatedly shown that Indian Country is still being left behind, making no improvements in income, poverty and insurance rates.

Comparing the 2004 report to the 2003 report, poverty among Native Americans is actually rising. In the 2003 report, 23 percent of Native families lived below the poverty level. Income levels remained unchanged and the insurance coverage rate was steady from the 2003 to 2004.

Despite the lack of change, other studies have shown that Native communities are better off than they were in 1990. A January 2005 report from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development documented gains in income, education, housing and other indicators, a finding linked to exercise of tribal self-determination and the growth of Indian gaming.

Long-term assessments are difficult, however, because the Census Bureau has not always tabulated statistics for the American Indian and Alaska Native population due to their small size. Native Americans make up less than 1 percent of the general population.

The 2004 report is only the second time the Census Bureau has presented poverty, income and health insurance data in one report. Previously, only poverty and income were reported together.

For insurance, the Census Bureau used to count people who relied solely on the Indian Health Service for health care as insured. But the agency now counts these Native Americans as uninsured. "The effect of this change on the overall estimates of health insurance coverage was negligible," the report stated.

Overall, the national poverty rate rose from 12.5 percent in 2003 to 12.7 percent in 2004, the Census Bureau said. National income level was stable at $44,389 and the percentage of Americans without health insurance coverage remained unchanged at 15.7 percent.

Census Bureau Report:
Press Release: Income Stable, Poverty Rate Increases, Percentage of Americans Without Health Insurance Unchanged | PDF: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004

Relevant Links:
U.S. Census Bureau -

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Harvard study tracks decade of Indian Country progress (1/10)
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