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Opinion: Wisconsin must address unemployment on reservations

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: employment, wisconsin

Writer calls on Wisconsin to address high rates of unemployment in Indian Country:
The issue of unemployment on reservations has existed for several generations. The impact on Native American communities has been tremendous. High rates of substance abuse, soaring numbers of depression and suicide, and low high school graduation rates are all related to high unemployment. By doing nothing, we are allowing for a long, slow genocide of Indian Country.

In 1997, the Wisconsin Works program (commonly known as W-2) was implemented by Gov. Tommy Thompson in the hopes of reducing welfare dependency while increasing the state's employment rates. It involved requiring work (typically 40 hours a week) to obtain state welfare aid. While some areas in the state saw improvement, Native American reservations remained stagnant. Why is that? One reason could be the limited access to jobs on reservations. Also, since the unemployment rate for Native Americans was so high to begin with, there would be not nearly enough jobs for everyone in such a small area as a reservation.

So, what can be done to help Native Americans in Wisconsin? Instead of simply relying on W-2 (which has been shown through the years to be ineffective with this population), the state needs to implement a new type of program, possibly something similar to a New Deal era program.

To put the unemployment problem in perspective: During the Great Depression, unemployment was, at its peak, around 25%. In Wisconsin, the current unemployment rate for Native Americans can range from 11% to as high as 93%, depending on the tribe. The state needs a program that works for such extreme poverty and unemployment.

Get the Story:
Megan Gedart: Wisconsin's Native Americans enduring their own Great Depression (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 5/21)

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