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Housing Needs and Socioeconomic Conditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives

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Housing Needs and Socioeconomic Conditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives

To better understand the demographic, socioeconomic, and housing conditions of Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations in the United States, HUD published an interim report that includes study data on the demographics of these populations as well as their socioeconomic and housing conditions. Preliminary findings indicate that although the socioeconomic differences between the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and non-AIAN populations have narrowed along some dimensions since 2000, significant gaps between the groups persist in the areas of poverty, employment, and housing needs. This article profiles these groups as of 2010, according to data collected.

Demographic Characteristics

Understanding the parameters of population size and spatial distribution of the AIAN population is crucial to accurately assessing the group’s housing needs. The report identifies two subgroups of the AIAN population: 2.9 million people who identified AIAN as their only race (AIAN alone) and 2.3 million people who self-identified as AIAN and belonging to more than one race (AIAN multiracial; see table 1). Within the AIAN alone population, researchers found two subgroups based on ethnicity: Hispanic AIAN alone (23%) and non-Hispanic AIAN alone (77%).

Table 1. Size of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Populations, 2010

Population Type 2010

AIAN alone

2.9 million

    % Hispanic


    % Non-Hispanic


AIAN multiracial

2.3 million

The report notes that the circumstances of the AIAN population vary substantially by geographic location. For example, Native Americans living in tribal areas generally face more economic hardships and housing problems than those living in metropolitan areas. The report discusses the spatial distribution patterns of the Native American population across two main geographic categories: AIAN counties or Indian Country (counties including the tribal areas and surrounding counties) and non-AIAN counties (including both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties).

Researchers found that in 2010, 32 percent of the Hispanic AIAN alone population lived in tribal areas and surrounding counties, whereas nearly 68 percent lived in non-AIAN counties, mostly in metropolitan areas. The AIAN multiracial population had a similar spatial distribution pattern, with nearly 67 percent of this population living in non-AIAN, predominantly metropolitan counties. By contrast, most of the non-Hispanic AIAN alone population (67%) lived in Indian Country.

The report also discusses regional variations in the demographic characteristics of the AIAN population. For example, in 2010, the Hispanic AIAN alone population in AIAN counties varied from 2.1 percent in the Alaska region up to 42 percent in the California/Nevada region.

Social and Economic Conditions

The report notes that the social and economic conditions of the AIAN population play an important role in shaping their housing needs and conditions. Comparing the ages, household size, and household type of the AIAN alone and non-AIAN populations, the report indicates that in 2010, AIAN households tended to be both larger and younger than their non-AIAN counterparts, and the AIAN group had a higher percentage of single-parent households (see figure 1).

The researchers found sizeable differences in educational attainment between the AIAN alone and non-AIAN populations. In the period from 2006 to 2010, only 13 percent of the AIAN adult population had a bachelor’s degree or higher, substantially lower than the 28 percent rate for non-AIAN adults. The AIAN population also had a higher percentage of adults over age 25 without a high school degree than did the non-AIAN population. Educational attainment among the AIAN population varied substantially across regions, with the Arizona/New Mexico, Eastern, and California/Nevada regions having the highest shares of AIAN people without a high school diploma.

Employment and income statistics also indicate gaps between the AIAN and non-AIAN populations. Twenty-six percent of the AIAN population lived below the poverty line in 2006–10 compared with only 14 percent of the non-AIAN population. Regional variation in AIAN poverty rates was substantial, ranging from about 20 to 22 percent in the South Central, California/Nevada, and Alaska regions to 33 percent in the Arizona/New Mexico region.

The AIAN unemployment rate in 2010 was 18 percent, considerably higher than the rate for the non-AIAN population (11%). In 2006–10, the average AIAN household income was $49,000, which was considerably less than the non-AIAN average of $71,000. The report notes that although the recent economic downturn did not disproportionally affect the AIAN population, it worsened the financial conditions of AIAN households, exacerbating the group’s already high levels of housing problems.

Figure 1. Select Socioeconomic Conditions in AIAN Alone and non-AIAN populations, 2010

Image of a table from The Anchor Dashboard. The table is divided into three columns, outcome, indicator, and data source. The outcomes are grouped into four categories, which are indicated vertically on the left edge of the table.

*Data for 2006-10 (multi-year average)

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014. “Continuity and Change: Demographic, Socioeconomic and Housing Conditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Economic Development

Using the state of the local economy as an indicator of an area’s economic well-being and ability to improve housing conditions, the researchers examined economic development trends in AIAN tribal areas and surrounding counties. The economies of these areas showed signs of growth in the 1990s and early 2000s up until the recent recession. The number of Native American-owned businesses nationwide increased from 102,000 in 1992 to 237,000 in 2007. AIAN counties experienced rapid growth in employment between 2000 and 2007, with an increase of 303,000 jobs per year. Although the economic recession reversed this growth, AIAN counties still saw a slight net gain in employment of about 0.65 percent from 2000 to 2010 compared with a decline of approximately 4.5 percent in non-AIAN counties.

Gaming operations account for a large share of economic activity in some tribal areas, generating about $27.2 billion in revenue in 2011. However, most of the gaming revenues flowed to a relatively small number of tribes, with the 23 largest tribal enterprises accounting for about 5 percent of the operations and about 38 percent of the total Indian gaming revenue. Researchers note that competition from non-Indian casinos and internet gambling makes the future contribution of gaming to economic development in AIAN counties uncertain.

Housing Conditions and Needs

Although the homeownership rate of the AIAN population increased significantly over the past decade — from 38 percent in 2000 to 54 percent in 2010 — it was still lower than the 2010 non-AIAN homeownership rate of 65 percent. AIAN homeownership rates vary substantially by type of area and by region. For example, homeownership rates for Native Americans in tribal areas ranged from 54 percent in the Northern Plains region to 77 percent in the Arizona/New Mexico region.

The report indicates that, from 2004 to 2006, a larger share of non-Hispanic AIAN alone borrowers had owner-occupied conventional home purchase mortgage loans with high interest rates compared with non-Hispanic white borrowers. (Loans with high interest rates during that period had Annual Percentage Rates exceeding the comparable Treasury yield by 3 percentage points or more for first-liens.) The ratio of non-Hispanic AIAN alone to non-Hispanic white borrowers receiving high-interest mortgages ranged from 2.6 in 2004 to 1.8 in 2006. A marked difference also exists in the share of AIAN and non-AIAN households that live in mobile homes and recreational vehicles (RVs). In 2006–10, 13 percent of AIAN households lived in mobile homes and RVs, almost twice the rate of non-AIAN households.

The share of AIAN households experiencing housing problems decreased substantially over the past decade, but large disparities still persist when compared with households nationwide. In 2006–10, 8.1 percent of AIAN households lived in overcrowded conditions compared with 3.1 percent of all U.S. households nationwide (see figure 2). The percentage of AIAN households lacking complete plumbing and kitchen facilities was substantially higher than that for all U.S. households.

Figure 2. Select Housing Conditions in AIAN and all U.S. Households, 2006–10 (multi-year average)

Image of a table from The Anchor Dashboard. The table is divided into three columns, outcome, indicator, and data source. The outcomes are grouped into four categories, which are indicated vertically on the left edge of the table.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014. “Continuity and Change: Demographic, Socioeconomic and Housing Conditions of American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Housing affordability continues to be a major problem among AIAN households; in 2006–10, nearly 4 out of 10 AIAN households spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing and nearly 2 out of 10 households devoted more than 50 percent of their income to housing costs. AIAN households in the California/Nevada region had the greatest cost hardships, and housing quantity and quality problems were especially prevalent in the Arizona/New Mexico and Alaska regions.

Ongoing Research

The interim report provides a foundation for the remaining data collection activities for the overall assessment of housing needs and conditions of all AIAN populations. Additional research activities include literature reviews of relevant research, in-person household surveys in selected AIAN tribal areas, interviews with tribal housing officials, telephone surveys of home loan lenders, and site visits to selected urban areas with high concentrations of AIAN residents. Findings from the interim report combined with the analysis presented in the final report will help researchers gain a deeper understanding of the extent of housing problems and needs of Native Americans across the country, as well as their experience with housing assistance programs implemented in the Indian Country under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996.


The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.