, Volume 16, Issue 1-2, pp 115-145

The individual economic well-being of Native American men and women during the 1980s: A decade of moving backwards

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Abstract

The study examines whether the income opportunities of Native Americans over the 1980s improved in response to stronger aggregate job growth or deteriorated in response to declining wage and employment opportunities, particularly for the less-skilled. Using data from the 1980 and 1990 US Census on individuals aged 16–64, a methodology is presented to analyze the effect of changes in the income distributions of Native Americans and whites on the average Native American-white income ratio. Oaxaca-type decompositions are also used to yield insights into the role of economy-wide as opposed to Native American-specific effects on changes in income, hourly earnings and annual hours employed over the period. The study concludes that the economic circumstances of Native American men and women further deteriorated relative to whites over the decade, chiefly due to the declining valuation given to Native American human capital, particularly for men. An important finding of the study is the role of economy-wide vis-à-vis native-specific effects: almost all of the adverse movements in average hourly earnings against Native Americans can be attributed to changes in economy-wide hourly earnings structures (with the least-skilled being paid less), whereas the large fall in relative annual hours is due to changes specific to Native Americans.