Chairman Greenspan, thank you for coming to today's hearing to discuss Federal Reserve monetary policy and the state of the U.S. economy. I would also like to recognize your staff for preparing such a comprehensive written report on these issues.
I sense a cautious optimism in your written testimony that reflects well on the resilience of the U.S. economy, especially in the wake of September 11th. Further, I want to thank you, Chairman Greenspan, for the Federal Reserve's diligent management of U.S. monetary policy in helping to make the recent economic downturn, I hope, relatively shallow and brief.
While most Americans can look forward to continued prosperity during 2002, I would like to draw your attention to a segment of the population that will not share in this prosperity: the approximately 2.7 million Native American and Native Hawaiian people living in the United States.
Consider the following statistics. According to U.S. Department of Commerce census data, unemployment rates on Indian Lands in the continental United States ranging up to 80 percent compared to 5.6 percent for the U.S. as a whole. Census data also show that the poverty rate for Native Americans during the late 1990s was 26 percent, compared to the national average of 12 percent. In fact, overall, Native American household income is only three-quarters of the national average.
This disparity is particularly evident in my home state of South Dakota where Native Americans represent over 8 percent of the state's population. While the overall state economy is relatively strong with, for example, a low 3.1 percent unemployment rate, the Native American population continues to suffer. South Dakota counties with Indian Reservations are ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as among the most impoverished in the United States.
This past Tuesday's Wall Street Journal carried an article by Jonathan Eig that focuses, in part, on the toll of poverty for the Oglala Sioux living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The article notes that:
Nearly half the tribe's population is destitute. The unemployment rate is about 75 percent. There is no bank, no motel, no movie theater. Restaurants open and close down before anyone notices. . . . The community has the shortest life expectancy of anywhere in the Western Hemisphere outside Haiti: 48 years old for men and 52 for women.
In light of this unacceptable economic disparity, I believe it is important to address this issue in a comprehensive manner. Therefore, as I announced at the National Congress of American Indians two weeks ago, I am moving forward with a Financial Institutions Subcommittee hearing on developing capital resources for Native Americans. At the hearing, we will consider issues such as:
· mechanisms for providing small business capital;
· means for fostering the growth of Native American-owned financial intermediaries;
· incentives for financial institutions to provide services on Indian Lands;
· ways to encourage personal savings; and
· vehicles for improving financial literacy.
The goal of these discussions will be to assess the state of affairs of Native American capital formation and to develop strategies for addressing the barriers that keep the first Americans out of the financial mainstream.
I thank you, Chairman Greenspan, for your extensive and thoughtful written testimony, and for the Federal Reserve's efforts to keep the U.S. economy on track. However, in closing, I would encourage you to consider the economic problems facing Native Americans. I believe we all, including the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Reserve Banks, have a responsibility to address these issues, and I look forward to working with you on this matter.