The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) August jobs report showed a labor market that, while not as hot as earlier in the year, is still showing significant growth. But despite that growth, there remains serious variation in the economic health of different racial and ethnic groups. Namely, August’s unemployment rate for Native Americans was 4.9%—which, while significantly better than its early pandemic peak of 28.6%, is still over a percentage point higher than the national seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 3.8%.[1]

In this piece, we report on an important facet of the pandemic economy that has affected how well Native Americans have been able to access employment over the past two years: their ability to work remotely compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

According to the Census Bureau, in early summer 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 economic crisis, Native Americans worked remotely due to the pandemic at a rate 8 percentage points lower than white workers. As workers returned to the office in 2021 and 2022, that gap closed but never disappeared, and by early summer 2022, Native Americans were still working remotely due to the pandemic at a rate 2 percentage points lower than white workers.

An important predictor of this racial gap is differences in the jobs that Native American workers hold compared to white workers; we find that job differences explain nearly the entire remote work gap during the first year of pandemic-era data. However, as the pandemic progressed, occupation has become a less significant factor in explaining this gap, while other factors may have begun to play a more important role.

As research continues to emphasize the benefits of remote work, this analysis suggests that Native American workers are being left behind.

The benefits of remote work include reduced exposure to COVID-19, improved work-life balance, shorter commute times, and increased employee morale and job satisfaction.

However, these benefits are not distributed equally across different demographic groups. For example, University of Pennsylvania Professor Martine Haas has made the case that some hybrid work environments may put women at a disadvantage. And even as media outlets and researchers have begun to emphasize the benefits of remote work, fewer analyses have focused on its racial disparities.

For Native nations, remote work has the potential to bring new economic opportunity. This matters because Native nations differ from many other communities in that out-migration not only has economic impacts, but is also a threat to cultural well-being. For individual tribal citizens, out-migration makes it more difficult to maintain ties to their culture and fellow citizens, particularly across multiple generations. For Native nations as a whole, population loss weakens their ability to operate as sovereign political entities.

Read the full article about Native Americans excluded from remote work by Matthew Gregg and Robert Maxim at Brookings.