Community Dividend

Financial literacy especially low among Native youth, survey finds

Published May 1, 2009  | May 2009 issue

The financial literacy of Native high school seniors is even lower than that of their non-Native peers, according to a report issued by First Nations Oweesta Corporation (Oweesta).

The report, titled Deepening Our Understanding of the Financial Education of Native Youth: An In-Depth Look at Native Students in Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota, is based on findings from a survey of 317 students at high Native-enrollment high schools in three states. Nearly 230 of the respondents were Native. They made up the largest-ever sample of Native high school students to participate in a survey of financial knowledge.

The survey instrument was based closely on a nationally administered, biennial survey conducted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (Jump$tart). It consisted of 29 multiple-choice questions about income, money management, savings, spending, and credit, plus a series of 19 questions about students' socioeconomic backgrounds, academic interests, and financial habits.

The survey findings reveal a significant gap in financial knowledge between the Native and non-Native respondents. The average survey scores for both groups correspond to a failing grade of F on a typical academic scale, but the Native students' scores are especially low. On average, Native students answered 39 percent of the multiple-choice questions correctly, compared to an average score of 46 percent for non-Natives. More than 90 percent of Native students received a failing score, compared to 78 percent of non-Natives, and Natives scored lower across all domains of financial literacy measured in the survey. The biggest gaps were in the areas of income and spending, where Native students' scores in both categories were just over 80 percent as high as non-Native students' scores.

Demographic data captured in the survey reveal additional gaps. Half of Native students surveyed did not have a bank account, while only 24 percent of non-Natives were unbanked. Slightly more than half of Native respondents had parents with some college experience, compared to 73 percent of non-Natives. Native respondents were less likely than their non-Native peers to have a driver's license, have taken a class in school that addressed money management or personal finance, or have ever been formally employed.

In addition to Oweesta and Jump$tart, the survey's sponsoring partners were the University of South Dakota Government Research Bureau and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. The National Council on Economic Education provided financial support. Representatives of Junior Achievement of New Mexico, the Hutchinson County [S.D.] Extension Service, and the Helena Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis led the data collection efforts in their respective states.

To read the report, visit