A couple weeks ago, I mashed together some population and jobs numbers and calculated that South Dakota may undercount unemployment on our American Indian reservations by 57,000, or more than ten percentage points. Today I turn to some locally processed data for a much lower estimate the difference between white and Indian unemployment in South Dakota.

The Black Hills Knowledge Network provides a pile of great data showing the total Indian reservation population, youth percentage of the Indian population, the retirement-age population, and the percentage of working adults aged 16–64 on the reservations.

These data are not perfect; the charts don't provide the age breakdowns for the Lake Traverse and Standing Rock areas, so I've had to extrapolate based on averages from the other reservations. The numbers based on extrapolations are marked yellow below. Plus, the youth population numbers count all under age 18; the working adult counts include kids age 16 and 17.

But here's what I figure: subtract the kids and grannies and grampies from the total population. Multiply that by the given percentage of working adults for each locality to get the number of working adults.

Notice that the working-adult percentage for all of South Dakota is 76.3%. Across all reservations, the average percentage of working adults is 52.1%. So suppose the reservation populations were finding jobs at the same rate as the rest of us. Apply that 76.3% to the working-age reservation population, and we get the number of people who would be on the job if all things were equal. The difference between the actual working-adult numbers and that quasi-ideal state-mirroring number offers another estimate of how many Indians could be working but aren't because of disparities between the reservations and the rest of South Dakota.

%16-64 working # 18-64 working # 18-64 working
if SD rate app'd
IndDiff Guess Indian
Cheyenne River 54.8% 2,460 3,426 965 28.2%
Crow Creek 48.1% 523 830 307 37.0%
Flandreau 66.0% 169 196 26 13.5%
Lower Brule 54.9% 449 624 175 28.0%
Pine Ridge 42.6% 4,373 7,832 3,459 44.2%
Rosebud 46.8% 2,732 4,453 1,722 38.7%
Yankton 64.3% 2,133 2,531 398 15.7%
Lake Traverse 68.5% 4,113 4,581 468 10.2%
Standing Rock 46.6% 2,105 3,446 1,342 38.9%
Indian Totals 52.1% 19,056 27,918 8,862 31.7%
South Dakota 76.3% 377,584 377,584

My math finds 8,862 Indians on the reservations who could be working if job opportunities were uniform across the state. Add those 8,862 to the 16,555 whom state Department of Labor says are out of work across the state (and do add them, because I still don't think South Dakota is counting the reservations in unemployment data), and South Dakota's unemployment rate would rise from 3.7% to 5.7% at the snap of our statistical fingers.

A lazy morning hypothesis would suggest that the 57,000 I calculated earlier this month is an upper bound, while the 8,862 calculated here is a lower bound. Whichever number of mine you accept, if any, I will point to one more chart from the Black Hills Knowledge Network that should inform our economic development policy. According to their count, the difference between the percentage of white South Dakotan adults working and the percentage of our American Indian adult subpopulation working is 36.1% (higher than I calculate!), the highest white-Indian gap in the nation.

Any number you pick says South Dakota policymakers need to do more to bring employment parity to our reservation communities.