25
Oct
07

Aboriginal employment reform: the American Indian experience

In light of significant reform to Aboriginal welfare and employment policy it is necessary to examine evidence-based approaches in similiar jurisdictions.  

Whist undertaking these approaches deserves closer comparison, a glimpse at research reports in similiar jurisdictions may shed light on potential risks. 

More over the fold. 

A study of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, linked here (2001), found that there are three essential pillars to welfare reform, and that failure in any of these pillars compromised welfare reform as a whole:

(1) income support and support services;

(2) job skills and training; and

(3) employment. 

The study found that the lack of an over-arching strategy to address the structural challenges of labour workforce supply and the scope of the labour market demand caused the most concern (the third pillar).  Put simply, after welfare reform there were simply not enough jobs to fill, or jobs that matched the American Indian labour market.

This concern was raised because of two risks distinct to Indigenous peoples:

(1) the risk that American Indians did not prefer to leave their homelands, and that there were negative social and psychological consequences if they were forced to leave because of welfare reform; and

(2) that instead of forcibly leaving their homelands they would simply disengage from the first pillar (income support and support services), causing downward pressure on bonding social capital.

My intention is not to offer a conclusive comparison of current Aboriginal-related reform with welfare reform in the United States, as I do not know the detail between the two to accurately assess.  In this instance I can’t offer an evidence-based approach.

What is useful, though, is independent and thorough research in social circumstances where significant policy reform is being implemented.  Without such accountability measures the policy reform compass is confined to media and other methods, and is not evidence-based.  

Where reform is being implemented with significant investment, the lack of independent research increases the risk of those resources showing an inevitable positive outcome, as opposed to an outcome where targeted reform would otherwise produce greater and more positive outcomes. 

That is, if substantive policy reform is not evaluated how can modifications be made in line with the lessons learned? 

And while I have no doubt that monitoring is occuring, it is not at the macro-level where modifications might be pivotel.

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