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  • Native Americans march for their rights in Washington

    Native Americans march for their rights in Washington | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 September 2017
Opinion

Native American women have the highest rate of poverty.

Activists and nonprofits have marked Native Equal Pay Day for Native American Women by highlighting the extreme wage gap between men and the native and Indigenous women.

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According to the American Association of University Women, AAUW, Native American women are discriminated based on gender and race, which increases the already staggering pay gap between men and women.

"American Indian and Alaska Native women are paid just 57 cents for every dollar white men are paid. For Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women, that number is 59 cents," the organization reported.

Little progress has been made to close the gap since the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963.

The federal law was designed to hold employers accountable in order to eliminate the pay gap based on sex. It also offered compensation in the form of bonuses, vacation, holiday pay, and other benefits. But over 50 years later, women continue to fight for equal pay.

This can result in millions of dollars worth of lost income. In 13 U.S. states, Native American women can expect to lose over US$1 million over a 40-year career, according to the National Women's Law Center.

The wage gap also affects Native American families given nearly two-thirds of Native American mothers are breadwinners.

A 2013 study, Status of Women in the States which examined the socio-economic status of women based on their race, found that Native American and Hispanic women occupy the lowest rung on the pay scale when compared to white women, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and others.

Native American women also have the highest poverty rate. Within the Native American communities, Sioux and Apache women have the lowest median incomes, while Chickasaw have the highest average earnings.

According to the 2016 American Community Survey from the Economic Policy Institute, the real median household income for Native Americans increased by just 1.8 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The survey also found that poverty levels in the community continue to remain "stubbornly high." Poverty among Native Americans between 2015 and 2016 remained "virtually unchanged," dropping from 26.6 to 26.2 percent.

Screenshot of a data table from the State of Women in the States

"The rate of poverty among Native Americans was nearly double the national average for all people and 1.7 times higher for children," according to the EPI study.

The pay gap comes as Native American and Indigenous women suffer alarming rates of violence.

A study by the National Institute of Justice found that at least four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women — nearly 83 percent — have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Since most reserved areas have their own legal courts, many tribal courts cannot judge non-native people who commit crimes including sexual assaults on native lands.

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