Landscapes of disadvantage: The structure of American Indian poverty from the reservation to the metropolis in the early 21st century

Kathryn Whitney Mauer
Development Sociology, Cornell University
July, 2014
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The cycle of American Indian disadvantage and deprivation has been linked to the removal and relocation of American Indian peoples to reservations, entrenching cycles of poverty within reservation boundaries. Yet a growing number of American Indians live in metropolitan areas, the result of a demographic shift that began in the wake of World War II. This project examines American Indian poverty, recognizing that trends in poverty outcomes may be influenced by American Indian land tenure and governance, tribal economic development, and American Indian migration. To disentangle the dimensions of poverty as experienced by American Indians in different social and territorial environments, this dissertation is composed of three distinct, yet parallel analyses of place-level poverty and its determinants, using data from the American Community Survey, Five-Year Dataset 2006-2010. The first analysis examines the determinants of American Indian poverty rates at the county-level within the contiguous 48 states. The second similarly structured analysis occurs at the level of federal American Indian reservations and trust lands. And in the final analysis, American Indian poverty rates in metropolitan counties are analyzed, including parallel analyses of poverty rates of other racial groups. The findings of the analyses collectively indicate that the most influential determinants were indicators of local opportunity structure. Yet the determinants of poverty were not identical in their effects on poverty rates across different places of measurement. At the county level, higher poverty rates were associated with a lack of work opportunities and income inequality, while the presence of federal American Indian lands was associated with lower rates of poverty. On American Indian lands, poverty rates were predominantly determined by work opportunities, with the presence of a gaming compact associated with lower poverty rates. At the metropolitan level, American Indian poverty rates were determined primarily by the degree of income inequality in the locale, work opportunities, and the percentage of youth. Additionally, the pattern of poverty determinants varied by race within metropolitan counties.