Ownership Structure of Tribal Land Exacts a Multibillion-Dollar Penalty
August 27, 2020
The poverty rate among Native Americans is more than twice the national average and the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. is on reservations. A dearth of well-paid jobs, the remote location of many reservations and inadequate health care all weigh against economic advancement.
Another big obstacle, long recognized but which has to date received little rigorous statistical analysis, is the byzantine way land is titled on the reservations of many of the country’s more than 500 federally recognized tribes. Native Americans have large amounts of land that they can’t borrow against, sell or develop. Imagine you couldn’t inherit the home your parents built or pass your property along to your children. Or tap the equity in your home to add a new kitchen, send your child to college or start a new business.
This is a huge impediment to wealth creation on reservations: In America, primary residences account for 62% of a median homeowner’s total assets and 42% of their wealth, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Some 72% of white households own their home, but just 55% of Native American and Alaska Native households do, according to Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit focused on helping low-income families build wealth.