XII.  Socio-Economic Inequities Suffered

by California Indians



As the preceding sections indicate, California Indians have endured a history of under-funding and under-administration.  Although BIA and federal funding are not the sole factors that affect the livelihood of California Indians, such under-attention might result in poorer employment rates, less income, less education, and worse housing conditions when compared to national Indian rates.  It is well known and documented that American Indians are among the poorest of the poor when compared with other ethnic and racial groups in the United States.  For example, in the 1980 census, 56 percent of Native Americans finished high school compared with 67 percent of U.S. people from all races.  In 1990, median household income for Native Americans was $20,025, down from $20, 542 in the 1980 census, indicating that Indians lost ground in household income during the 1980s.  Only Blacks with a 1990 median household income of $19,758 ranked lower that American Indians, while Whites ($31,435), Asians ($36,784), and Hispanics ($24,156) ranked higher.  The 1990 census shows that American Indians were greatly impoverished, with 30.9 percent living below the poverty line, compared with 9.8 percent of Whites, 14.1 percent of Asians, 25.3 percent of Hispanics, and 29.5 percent of Blacks.  Even higher rates of American Indian children were living below the poverty line, 37.6%, while 12.3 percent of White children, 38.8 percent of Black children, 16.6 percent of Asian children, and 31.0 percent of Hispanic children were living below the poverty line.  In 1980, 32.5 percent of American Indian children were living in poverty, and so the decade of the 1980s indicates a deteriorating economic position for American Indian people and children.  According to the 1980 census, the American Indian unemployment rate was 13 percent, while the 1990 census American Indian unemployment rate was 25.6 percent.  Consequently, in recent years, Indian unemployment rates were 4 to 5 times higher than national rates for the early 1990s, and certainly at least double depression level unemployment.  During the 1980s, the overall unemployment rate for reservation and trust land Indians doubled, again indicating a deteriorating economic position for Native Americans in recent years. 


While comparisons of American Indian socio-economic conditions with national or other groups indicates relatively poor conditions for Indians, California Indians show even worse socio-economic rates on many indicators.  The relatively worse socio-economic conditions of California Indians may well be the result of years of administrative inattention and under-funding.  While American Indians as a group are among the worst off in the United States, indigenous California Indians are generally worse off than other Indians, and therefore are poor within one of the poorest groups in the nation.  The following figures indicate that indigenous California Indians have suffered in social-economic well-being relative to other Indian groups in other states, not to mention when compared with the rest of the nation.







Several sources for employment statistics were examined for California Indians.  Census data, BIA labor force statistics, and self reports from surveys all provide somewhat different comparative views of unemployment rates between California Indians and other Indians.  BIA labor force statistics are collected by self-reports from tribal groups under close supervision by BIA administrators.  These data were collected on Indians living on or near Indian reservations or trust lands.



BIA Labor Force Statistics


                                    National                                                          California Indian

                                    Indian unemployment %                              Unemployment %


1965                           52%                                                               53%

1966                           46                                                                   37

1967                           40                                                                   46

1968                           39                                                                   28

1969                           44                                                                   23

1970                           40                                                                   49

1971                           39                                                                   48

1972                           40                                                                   50

1973                           37                                                                   49

1977                           26                                                                   35

1985                           39                                                                   55

1987                           38                                                                   47

1989                           40                                                                   38

1991                           35                                                                   36

1993                           37                                                                   41

Source:  BIA Labor Force Statistics, central office.


The first issue to note from the preceding table is that the overall Indian unemployment rate for 1989-93 is in the 37-40 percent range, nearly twice the unemployment rate recorded for American Indians in the 1990 census.  These data indicate that the BIA service population is much worse off than the Indian population measured by the Census Bureau.  Based on the 15 years for which there are data, California Indian unemployment rates are higher than other Indians in 11 out of 15 years.  Over the last decade, California Indians have had higher unemployment rates than other Indians in 4 out of 5 years recorded.  Consequently, California Indians appear to be generally worse off in employment than other BIA-administered Indians.  In particular, California Indians have been relatively worse off in employment over the last decade as compared to other BIA-administered Indians.


A second set of California Indian unemployment rates derives from 1990 census data based on 79 reservations and rancherias.  These data indicate that 24.8 percent of California Indians were unemployed, while the unemployment rate for all Indian reservations was 25.6 percent.  Both numbers are far lower than BIA statistics, and in these data California Indians have a slightly lower unemployment rate than other reservation Indians, although still having a rate nearly five times the level of national U.S. unemployment. 


As part of our task force’s effort to better understand California unemployment trends, our team analyzed a 5 percent sample drawn from the 1990 census data for rural California Indians who were 18 years or older.  This analysis yielded an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent for rural California Indians over 18 years old, and compares with an unemployment rate of 9.46 percent for non-California Indians who were 18 years or older.  Thus rural California Indians have a higher unemployment rate than rural Indians in other states.


Our own 1995 survey data  provide self-reports from 27 California Indian communities.  The surveyed Indian communities estimated unemployment in the 15 percent to 90 percent range, with a median unemployment rate of 30 percent.  The self-report survey indicates wide variation in perceived unemployment among California Indian communities and records that most California Indians believe their unemployment rates are high. 


California Indians have unemployment rates near or above the rates of other Indian communities in the United States.  Most indicators of California Indian unemployment rates demonstrate that California rates are higher than those of other Indians, and California Indians believe their unemployment rates are high.  California Indians may suffer higher unemployment levels because they were under-served and under-administered by BIA and federal programs.


Poverty Levels


California Indians have higher rates of poverty than other Indians.  Census data  from 1990 indicate that poverty rates on California Indian reservations is 34.1 percent;  in other words, 34.1 percent of California reservation and rancheria households have incomes below minimum U.S. standards.  The 1990 census poverty level for all Indians was 30.9 percent, over three percentage points lower than California Indians. 


In a comparison of rural Indians through a 5 percent sample of the 1990 census data, 28.6 percent of rural California Indians, excluding out-of-state tribes, were below the poverty line, while 27.8 percent of all non-California Indians were below the poverty line.  Thus rural California Indians were more impoverished than other Indians.


Our own survey of 27 California Indian communities, conducted in 1995, provided self-reports of poverty rates ranging from 18 percent to 100 percent.  The median self-reported percentage of people below the poverty line was 70 percent.  California Indians believe that a very high portion of their community is suffering from financial distress and that their community members are suffering impoverished life conditions at rates more than twice as high as the census data report.


California Indians are more impoverished than other Indians, even though American Indians are the most impoverished group in the nation.  California Indians are among the poorest of the poor.  California Indians are well aware of the poverty within their communities and perceive their poverty to be considerably higher than indicated by official statistics.




Based on the 1990 census of 79 California reservations and rancherias, the average of the reservation/rancheria median incomes was $15,871.43, which is far below the national Indian median household income of $20,025.  The average median for California Indian reservations also was significantly lower than the $19,758 median household income of Blacks, the group with the lowest national median income in the 1990 census.  Consequently, as a group, California Indians have one of the lowest income levels of any group in the nation.


The task force explored California income rates by analyzing a 5 percent sample of the 1990 census.  In this analysis, median household income for rural California Indians was $21,802, while median household income for all other U.S. Indians was $21,912.  The median income for rural California Indians who were full-time workers was $14,193.50, while the median income for all other full-time Indian workers was $14,000.  The average per capita household income for rural California Indians was $6,900.42, while for all other Indians the average was $7,969.16.  When rural California Indians find full-time work, they do slightly better than other Indians, but because they suffer higher unemployment rates their household incomes are lower than the household incomes of other Indians. 


The income levels of California Indians are some of the lowest levels of any group in the nation.  California Indian household income is lower than the household incomes of all other Indians.





Census data for 1990 indicate that in 79 California reservations and rancherias, the percentage of high school graduates for 18-24 years old is 34.7 percent, while the national Indian average for reservations is 35.5 percent.  Thus for 18-24 year old, California Indians are graduating from high school at slightly lower rates.  Those California Indians between the ages of 18 and 24 who have taken some college total 13.4 percent, while 16.9 percent of all Indians in the same age group have attended some college.  California Indians in the 18-24 age graduate from college at a .47 percent rate, or less than one-half of one percent, while nationally Indians in the same age group graduate from college at a .53 percent rate, or slightly more than one-half of one percent.  These data indicate that reservation California Indians in the 18-24 age group are less well educated than Indians in general.  Young California Indians graduate from high school and college at lower rates and fewer years of college than the national average for American Indians living on reservations.


For older California Indians, age 25 or above, educational achievement is better for high school and grade school, but worse in post-high school education, than other older reservation Indians and the rest of the nation.  According to the 1990 census, 2.5 percent of older California Indians have not completed the fifth grade, while nationally  for reservation Indians, ages 25 or above, 9.5 percent did not complete the fifth grade.  Furthermore, 8.5 percent of older California Indians finished school between the 5th and 8th grades, while for all older reservation Indians 12 percent finished school between the 5th and 8th grades.  Among older California Indians, 31.5 percent attended some high school but did not gain a diploma, while 24.4 percent of all older reservation Indians attended some high school but did not finish.  Adding the latter percentages together yields at total of 42.5 percent of older California Indians who did not graduate from high school, while 45.9 percent of all older reservation Indians did not graduate from high school.  Similarly, there were 31.7 percent of older California Indians who finished their education with a high school diploma, but no additional schooling, while 29.4 percent of all older reservation Indians graduated from high school but took no additional educational training.  A smaller proportion of older California reservation Indians than other reservation Indians finished their education in grade school or did not complete high school, and a higher percentage finished high school.


In post-high school education, California Indians of age 25 years or older fare worse than all other reservation Indians in the same age group.  Older California Indians with some college totaled 7.7 percent, while 15 percent of all Indians attended some college.  Older California Indians collected two-year occupational degrees at a 2.9 percent rate and two-year academic degrees at a 2.4 percent rate.  All older reservation Indians collected occupational two-year degrees at a 4 percent rate, and 1.9 percent collected two-year academic degrees.  Older California Indians are obtaining two-year academic degrees at a higher rate than the average, but are collecting two-year occupational degrees at a lower pace than average for all older reservation Indians.  Older California Indians also complete college at a lower rate (1.9 percent) than all older Native Americans (2.8 percent).  The rate of completion of professional and graduate degrees by all Native Americans is higher (1.13 percent) than older California Indians, among whom .8 percent, or less than one percent, complete graduate or professional degrees.  Except for two-year academic degrees, California Indians over 25 are less well off than the average of all reservations in completing post-high school education.


Our 5 percent sample of the 1990 census study yielded an average of 11.29 years of education for rural Indians living in California (aged 25 or over), but excluding any known non-California tribes, while the average education level for all other U.S. Indians (aged 25 or over)  was 11.34 years of school.  Consequently, older rural California Indians were on average slightly less well educated than all other Indians.


In summary, younger California Indians are less well educated than average reservation Indians, while older California Indians are better educated at the precollege level, but less well educated in the post-high school level.  California Indians 18 years or over lag behind national averages of Indians at the post-high school, college and occupational levels.  Older California Indians do better than the national average for reservations in obtaining higher levels of grade school and high school education.  The fact that younger California Indians (18-24) are doing worse than the Indian average for that age group indicates that in recent years less attention has been given to California Indian education.  Younger California Indians are falling behind other Indians, and are falling further behind national averages for all people.  Greater attention needs to be given to California youth in order that they will not fall further behind in education at all levels; more should be prepared for college and other post-high school training.  The under-representation of California Indians in the ranks of college and professional graduates relative to Indians as a whole indicates that more attention needs to be directed toward preparing and assisting California Indians for post-high school training and education.


Household Characteristics


Each decade the Census Bureau collects information on housing characteristics, which in turn indicate the conditions and physical qualities of life within the U.S. population.  In recent years, the census collects information on complete plumbing, complete kitchens, household occupancy by ethnicity, access to a vehicle and presence of a telephone in a household, as well as other types of information.  Some of this information can be used as indicators of economic well-being, and hence we compare California reservation and rancherias to non-California reservation Indians with respect to household characteristics.


An interesting statistic collected by the 1990 census was household occupancy in American Indian and Alaska Native areas.  While these data are not directly indicative of socio-economic situation, they can indicate the relative density of Native American tribal members compared to non-Indians living on reservations and rancherias.  More non-Indians living in Indian areas would indicate potential loss of community control and sovereignty by Indian communities.  Drawing from table 2 of the 1990 census report on characteristics of households, 96 California Indian reservations and rancherias reported Indian and non-Indian household occupation rates on Indian land.  Indians occupied 4,107 households out of a total 18,674 households on California reservations and rancherias.  Thus only 22 percent of the households on California Indian territories is occupied by Indian families.  The California data, however, are highly skewed by the special conditions at Agua Caliente, where there are only 52 Indian-owned households out of 10,546 households.  If we withdraw Agua Caliente from the analysis, then the rate of Indian household occupancy in California Indian Country is 50 percent, since there are 4,055 Indian-occupied households out of 8,128 households in California Indian areas.  The national rate of Indian occupancy of households in Indian areas is 45 percent, with 112,615 Indian-occupied households out of 250,065 in Indian Country.  Thus if we discount the special case of Agua Caliente, California Indians as a group occupy 5 percent more households within their Indian-designated territories than the average national household occupancy rate for all Indian areas.


Turning to the characteristics of Indian occupied households, 20.2 percent of Indian occupied households on reservation and trust land lacked complete plumbing, 17.5 percent lacked complete kitchens, 22.4 percent did not have access to a vehicle, and 53.4 percent did not have a telephone.  Seventy-one California tribes reported the latter household characteristics representing 4,102 Indian-occupied households.  The census reports that 173 (4 percent) of California Indian homes did not have complete plumbing as compared with 20.2 percent for all Indian-occupied households in Indian areas.  There were 165 (4 percent) California Indian-occupied households that did not have complete kitchens, while 17.5 percent of Indian-occupied households in all Indian reservation areas did not have complete kitchens.  Households without access to a vehicle totaled 704 (17.2 percent), which is slightly lower that the national rate (17.5 percent) of Indian households in Indian Country without access to a vehicle.  There were no telephones in 1,276 (31 percent) California Indian-occupied households, while 53.4 percent of Indian-occupied homes in Indian Country did not have telephones.  The census data indicate that California reservation Indian households are better equipped with modern conveniences than average reservation Indian households.


For all Indians in California, including non-indigenous California tribes, the median year their house was built is 1966, while the median year of household structure construction for all U.S. Indians was 1970.  As a group, all Indians living in California occupy somewhat older household structures than all U.S. Indians. 


The task force’s survey of 27 California Indian communities, however, does not indicate that California Indians are well satisfied with their present housing accommodations.  Virtually all responding communities indicated that they were in need of better housing, with needs ranging from 15 to 214 units, and many needing housing in the 20-30 unit range.  In addition, ACCIP hearings brought forth additional comments on housing issues.  For example, during the September 16, 1994 ACCIP hearings,  the chair of the Morongo Reservation presented testimony that most tribal housing was substandard, and that the tribe needed base funds for maintenance and good management.


The 1990 census data indicate that California Indian households do much better than the national reservation Indian average by having more complete kitchens and plumbing, slightly more access to vehicles, and more telephones.  California Indian communities, however, still believe their communities are rife with substandard housing structures and are in need of new housing and administrative and funding capability to maintain their present housing.





When compared to non-California reservation Indians, California Indians have higher rates of poverty, lower household income, slightly less education, less post-secondary education, and higher rates of unemployment.  Only in household characteristics do California reservation Indians do better than non-California reservation Indians.  These combined indices of adverse socio-economic conditions put California reservation Indians among the lowest socio-economic groups in Indian Country.  Since Indians are already among the lowest socio-economic groups in the country, California Indians are among the most economically deprived groups in the nation.  The past and present history of administrative neglect and underfunding most likely has contributed to the adverse socio-economic position endured by California reservation Indians.