The employment gap between American Indian and white South Dakotans is the largest in the nation, according to recently released U.S. Census data. An average of 47.5 percent of the state’s 43,320 American Indian residents were at work from 2011-2015 compared to 80.2 percent of the total 356,098 white South Dakotans. This employment gap is largely related to the lack of opportunities for employment and training on South Dakota’s reservations.
Unemployed and underemployed individuals offer a potential source of workers for employers in South Dakota, but more will need to be done to match training opportunities that exist in labor needs. According to a report by the National Congress of American Indians, partnerships with government entities and academic institutions can offer ample opportunities for workforce training.
Several reservation counties within the state are struggling to hire teachers for language arts, mathematics, science, physical education, and other subject areas. Additionally, South Dakota’s rural counties are facing a shortage of mental health and primary care professionals. A majority of South Dakota’s counties are medically underserved.
Other states with significant American Indian populations had substantially lower employment gaps. Oklahoma had the lowest wage gap between Native and Non-Native populations in the nation at 8.6 percent, followed by No 2. Texas, also at 8.6 percent. California ranked 18th nationally at 12.4 percent with Arizona placing No. 42 at 20.3 percent.
South Dakota’s neighboring states also had substantial employment gaps. Iowa had the lowest employment gap regionally at 17.7 percent, while Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, and North Dakota had gaps over 20 percent:
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