In every society, stratification of the members of society into various groups and classes is present. Social stratification exists because social structure in the society is very important – they reflect the ability of certain people to access the resources in the society. For instance, dominant groups are privileged with great power, and high social status; however, minority groups are singled out for unequal treatment, and are subject to collective discrimination. This pattern of unequal access to resources in the society thus gives rise to social inequality. In the United States, the four major groups of racial minorities are the Native Americans, the African Americans, the Asian Americans, and the Hispanic Americans.
Throughout the world, indigenous peoples in different countries have always been subjected to unequal treatment as powerful nations seek to enhance the strength of their nations. In the United States, the same sequence of events occurred: the lands of the Native Americans were seized by foreign colonists; the indigenous people resisted domination, and were then given rough treatment until they subjugated and assimilated with the people who had taken over their land. The Native Americans in the United States are actually a diverse group consisting of more than 500 tribes, including the Cherokee, Navaho, Sioux and etcetera. These tribes differ substantially with regards to their practices and living conditions. However, the one thing they have in common is that they all experience social inequality no matter in which society they inhabit.
One example that illustrates the social inequality that the Native Americans face is the economic development among them. The Native Americans are impoverished – they are backward with regards to the standards of income and occupational status in comparison to the white people. In 1995, a survey is done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and results show that the overall unemployment among the Native Americans is over 30 percent (n.d.). In addition, for those who are
Social Inequality and Minorities 3
active in the economy, one third of them earn less than $10,000 each year (BLS, n.d.). Most of their employments are also of low social or economic status, that is, they are not very likely to rise to top positions such as managers and administrators, or professional status such as positions that are related to medicine and law.
Native Americans generally find work in the government, such as the state government, the local government, the military, and other federal agencies. Statistics showed that one in every four employed Native Americans is employed by the federal government in 1970 (BLS, n.d.). The Bureau of Indian Affairs also employs Native Americans in its administration. More than half of the employees in the agency are of indigenous origins. The policy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is also to give preference to Native Americans in its employment, and this policy is upheld by the United States Supreme Court (BIA, n.d.).
However, the major feature of reservation life is essentially unemployment. In 2002, the Full Employment Action Council issued a government report to describe unemployment among Native Americans. The report consisted of descriptions of the unemployment situation, like “massive”, “horrendous”, and “severe” (Sloan, 2002). Currently, the official unemployment figures of reservation life are among the range of 23 to 90 percent (BLS, n.d.). In 1990, the Census showed that the poorest countries in the United States are those that are mainly inhabited by Native Americans, such as Shannon Country in South County of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Even in urban cities, the unemployment rates for Native Americans are very high (n.d.). In Los Angeles, California, the unemployment rate is 40 percent (BLS, n.d.).
Another example is the availability of educational resources to the Native Americans in the United States. Before the 1930s, Native...
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