American Indian Children's Fund

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Living Conditions

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Living Conditions

About half of our country’s 2,500,000 Native Americans live on reservations, in conditions that are "four to five decades behind the majority of Americans" (Sept. 12, 2002, Rocky Mountain News). It is impossible to describe the many factors that have created the challenges that Native Americans face today, but the following facts about the most pressing issues of economics, health, and housing give a hint of what life is like for many of the first Americans.


Typically, Tribal and Federal government are the largest employers. The scarcity of jobs and lack of economic opportunity mean that as many as eight out ten adults on reservations are unemployed. Most people are dependant on welfare and other subsistence programs. "More than 40% of families on reservations live below the 1999 federal poverty line" (May 25, 2002, Arizona Daily Star).  Often, heads of household are forced to leave the reservation to seek work, and grandparents take on the job of raising their grandchildren. In order to survive, extended families pool their meager resources to try and provide for their basic needs.


The remoteness and limited resources of many reservation communities make it difficult to provide adequate housing. Both homelessness and overcrowding are chronic problems. Because many families will not turn away any family member who needs a place to stay, it is not uncommon for as many as 25 people to live in a two-bedroom home.  The housing problem is made worse by the fact that much existing housing is substandard and in desperate need of repair. Despite the Indian Housing Authorities’ (IHAs) recent efforts, the need for adequate housing on reservations is acute. "Just 68% of American Indian households have telephones, compared to 95% for the nation as a whole. The legislature deplored the fact that there are 90,000 homeless or under housed Indian families, and that 30% of Indian housing is overcrowded and less than 50% of it is connected to a public sewer" (March 10, 2004, Indian Country Today).


"The average life expectancy for Native Americans as a whole is 55, which is lower than for residents of Bangladesh," (June 2, 2002 Miami News-Record). Lack of public health infrastructure and services contribute to the inadequate health care of many Native Americans living on reservations. "The federal government spends half as much on health programs per tribal member as it does on health programs for other Americans," (June 23, 2002, Great Falls Tribune).  The pressure to shift from a traditional way of life to a more Western lifestyle has dramatically changed the health status of the Native people, and created a terrible epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. "Indian Elders are 48.7% more likely to suffer from heart failure, 173% more likely to suffer from diabetes, and 44.3% more likely to suffer from asthma than the general population," (July 11, 2002, Everett Herald).

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