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Editorial

Where are the jobs for Indian Country?

BY MARK TRAHANT

Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics started a frenzy when it

released its latest job report, showing that only 54,000 jobs were

added to the economy in May.

The White House says don’t worry too much about those numbers;

it only represents one month. Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the

Council of Economic Advisers, told The Associated Press that the

addition of a million new jobs over the past six months shows “we

have improved a long way from when the economy was in rescue

mode.”

That’s true. And, I think the White House ought to get more credit

for keeping the economy from falling off the cliff. But at the same

time, the future prospects for job creation are bleak. Why? The

Republicans are demanding a policy of major government contraction

while the White House is “negotiating” for a policy for some

contraction. Either way all governments are shrinking. The economy

is going to lose a you-know-what load of jobs or a mega-load of jobs.

Either way there are a lot of minus-signs ahead.

The May jobs report hints at what’s to come. First, it said, long-

term unemployed — those out of work for 27 weeks or more —

continued to grow by 361,000 to 6.2 million people and “their share of

unemployment increased to 45.1 percent,” the BLS said.

So what’s the government doing for the long-term unemployed? Not

a damn thing. The overriding idea is that some magical private sector

beans are going to be planted soon and grow jobs for millions of

people.

At the same time the numbers of long-term unemployed continue

to grow, the government sector is cutting its own workforce. Big

time. “Employment in local government continued to decline over

the month, ” the report said. Local government lost 28,000 jobs last

month and 446,000 jobs since a peak in September 2008. That’s

just the beginning. If the trillion dollars worth of cuts demanded by

Republicans come into being those job losses will look small by

comparison.

Another industry hit by government contraction: Construction. When

government at all levels cuts back on infrastructure, there are fewer

jobs building roads, schools, buildings. Here is what the Bureau of

Labor Statistics report says about that: “Construction employment

was essentially unchanged in May. Employment in the industry has

shown little movement on net since early 2010, after having fallen

sharply during the 2007-09 period.”

How does Indian Country fit into this picture? That’s a tough question

to answer because so much of the data is old and often unreliable.

(More than ever: Indian Country needs real time data, but that’s

another column.) But we do know for certain that unemployment

is significantly higher in American Indian and Alaska Native

communities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Population and Labor

Force Report pegs it at near 50 percent nationally (showing South

Dakota with the highest unemployment rate at 83 percent of the adult

workforce). While a report last year by the Economic Policy Institute,

using a different methodology, showed an unemployment rate of 21.3

percent in the first half of 2010. (EPI also found unemployment rates

significantly higher in the Great Plains.)

Of course the problem with all of those numbers — bleak as they are –

– is that they look backward, not forward. What are the prospects for

Indian Country in this new environment of contraction? Remember

government, at all levels, is in a job-cutting mode. Tribal and village

governments have spent the past decade essentially creating jobs

both in government and in the private sector (but even private

jobs, are often tied to government through construction and other

infrastructure projects). The problem is those jobs have not kept up

with an expanding population because Indian Country is a younger

workforce.

When it comes to jobs — nationally and in Indian Country — there is

an insurmountable mathematical obstacle. The more jobs that are cut

by the government, mean that many more must be created to put the

long-term unemployed back to work.

It’s been said that Indian Country is in a permanent recession. But

the sad truth is it could get a lot worse — and it’s a path we’re on right

now.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of

the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s

recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of

Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

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About CRG

Editor in Chief of the Voice of the Indigenous, Writer.

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