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updated 12/10/2004 2:17:58 PM ET 2004-12-10T19:17:58

Racial and gender inequalities afflict women generally in the United States and Native women more than others, according to the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.

The Institute's ''Status of Women in the States'' shows that American Indian women have lower social and economic status than white women throughout the U.S., with lower earnings, less education, more poverty and worse health.

Coupled with Department of Justice findings on the high rate of violent victimization among Indian women, the report continues a modest trend toward constructive attention to the problems Native women encounter - and overcome in a great many cases - on a statistical scale unparalleled in the United States.

''The data in this report clearly show the many challenges faced by Native American women in this country,'' said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. ''We hope that the report will serve as a springboard to energize policymakers to improve the status of Native American women.''

Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, called on the funding community to support new research on American Indian women. ''Many data sources are out of date or incomplete. In order to adequately address the problems facing Indian women, we need reliable statistics to describe the quality of American Indian women's lives and experiences. Researchers don't know enough about many of the serious issues affecting American Indian women's lives because Indian women do not yet have sufficient political or economic power to demand the necessary data.''

The study makes a good start, reporting that the median annual earnings of American Indian women who work full-time, full-year in the U.S. are $25,500 and they make only 58 cents for every dollar white men in the country make. The report finds 25 percent of American Indian women in the U.S. living in poverty. The number is even greater for Native American single mothers: More than a third, 38 percent, of families headed by an American Indian single mother live in poverty.

The differences between Native women who live in urban and rural areas are even more pronounced. In non-metro areas, those working full-time, full-year make $23,200 on average, and women in metro areas make $27,600. When women who work less than full-time are included in the figures, the picture is bleaker: Native women who live in non-metro areas make only $15,000, and those who live in metro areas make $18,800.

Differences also abound from state to state. American Indian women's earnings range from a high of $38,700 in Connecticut to a low of $19,900 in North Dakota. American Indian women in Virginia are the least likely of Native women to be poor, with 11 percent living in poverty, while almost half of American Indian women in South Dakota, 45 percent, live in poverty.

''Government at all levels should put forth an effort to recruit American Indian women into training and education programs that will offer them higher -paying opportunities and positions and help close the wage gap,'' said NCAI's Johnson.

''Effective federal, state and local policies to lower American Indian women's poverty rates are greatly needed to address these disparities,'' she added. ''Ways to address these inequities include emphasis on educational attainment, enforcement of equal opportunity laws, payment of living wages, increased access to affordable child care and providing adequate health and leave benefits.''

A smaller proportion of American Indian women (30 percent) in the country work in managerial or professional jobs, compared with 36 percent of all women. Only 12 percent of Native American women nationally have a four-year college degree, almost half the rate for all women (23 percent). Again, the numbers vary widely across the country: 50 percent of American Indian women in the District of Columbia work in managerial or professional jobs, compared with 20 percent of Native women in Iowa. Massachusetts has the highest proportion of American Indian women with a college degree, at 20 percent, while Delaware has the lowest, at 7 percent.

American Indian women are also dramatically under-represented in elected office: No American Indian women currently serve in the U.S. Congress, and no American Indian women serve in statewide elected executive offices in any state in the country. As of October 2004, there were 10 American Indian women serving in state legislatures in five states across the country, out of a possible 7,382 seats. In comparison, there were 1,355 white women serving, 215 African American women, 58 Hispanic women and 23 Asian American women.

Johnson said political participation is a viable method for American Indian women to shape the policies that affect their lives. NCAI sought to increase the involvement of all American Indian people in the political process through the Native Vote 2004 campaign. She said success stories include Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who was elected to the Minneapolis school board and Cecelia Fire Thunder, who recently became the first woman elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. In addition, a Chickasaw woman, Lisa J. Billy, was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. More efforts like these are needed to include Indian women in the political process, Johnson said.

Health disparities also characterize the experience of Native women in the United States, the report found.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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