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Previous reports have detailed a number of health concerns among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, including high rates of diabetes, heart disease and respiratory conditions (ABS 2002). For remote communities, isolation and limited access to health services may exacerbate these problems.
In 2002 Indigenous people reported their health as either excellent/very good (44%), good (32%) or fair/poor (23%). While the proportion of people who reported excellent/very good health was similar in remote and non-remote areas, those in remote areas were less likely to rate their health as fair/poor (20% compared with 25%).
After adjusting for the different age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people aged 18 years and over were twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to report their health as fair/poor (table S5.2). They were also nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to have a disability or long-term health condition.
There were gains in the educational attainment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between 1994 and 2001. The proportion with a certificate or diploma doubled (from 11% to 22%), while those with a bachelor degree or higher qualification rose from 1% to 3%. Excluding those who had a non-school qualification, the proportion of Indigenous people who had completed Year 12 also increased (from 7% in 1994 to 10% in 2002).
Despite these gains in educational attainment, Indigenous people aged 18 years and over were still far less likely than non-Indigenous people to have a non-school qualification in 2002 (29% compared with 50%).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally experience lower levels of labour force participation and higher levels of unemployment than non-Indigenous people. In 2002, after adjusting for the different age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people aged 18 years and over were less likely to be employed than non-Indigenous people (43% compared with 63%). They were also more than twice as likely to be unemployed (9% compared with 4%) and more likely not to be in the labour force (48% compared with 33%).
In recognition of the limited employment opportunities in remote areas, the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme was established and has since extended into some non-remote areas. By providing Indigenous community organisations with funds to pay participants working on community projects, the scheme provides jobs and training for people who agree to forego an unemployment allowance. While the total proportion of Indigenous people in the labour force remained constant at around 60% in both 1994 and 2002, there were marked changes in employment status with the proportion of employed people increasing from 36% to 46%. The CDEP scheme increasingly contributed to Indigenous employment, although the proportion of Indigenous people employed in mainstream jobs also rose (from 28% to 34%) (graph S5.4).
Between 1994 and 2002 the proportion of unemployed Indigenous people fell from 22% to 14% which translates to unemployment rates of 38% in 1994 falling to 23% in 2002. This is consistent with the general decline in national unemployment from 10% in June 1994 to 6% in December 2002. Improvements in long-term unemployment were also evident. In 1994 about half of all unemployed Indigenous people had been unemployed for one year or longer. By 2002 this proportion had reduced to a quarter.
To allow comparisons of income between households of different size and composition, gross household income is adjusted using an equivalence scale. For a lone-person household, equivalised gross household income is equal to income received. For a household comprising more than one person, it is an indicator of the gross household income that would be required by a lone-person household in order to enjoy the same level of economic well-being as the household in question. For more information see National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2002 (4714.0).
In 2002 the mean equivalised gross household income of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over was $387 per week, up from $345 per week in 1994. The likelihood of being employed and having non-school qualifications both increased with income. Compared with those in the lowest income quintile, those in the fourth or fifth income quintile were almost five times as likely to be employed (88% compared with 18%) and more than twice as likely to have a non-school qualification (43% compared with 18%).
Despite increases since 1994, the incomes of Indigenous people in 2002 still fell well below those of non-Indigenous people. The mean equivalised gross household income of Indigenous people aged 18 years and over was $394 per week, equal to 59% of the corresponding income of non-Indigenous people ($665 per week). Income data from the 2001 and 1996 censuses confirms that while Indigenous mean equivalised gross household income has increased, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incomes has not narrowed (Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001 (4713.0)).
In 2002 the majority (70%) of Indigenous people were living in rented dwellings. The proportion renting was higher in remote areas (86%) where the majority of Indigenous people (64%) were living in accommodation provided by Indigenous Housing Organisations or in other community housing. Overall, about a quarter (27%) of Indigenous people were living in dwellings either owned or being purchased in 2002 (up from 22% in 1994) (table S5.5).
Overall, 40% of Indigenous people reported they were living in a dwelling which had major structural problems (58% in remote areas and 32% in non-remote areas), and 63% were living in dwellings where repairs and maintenance had been carried out in the previous year (52% in remote areas and 67% in non-remote areas). Overcrowding was much more prevalent in remote areas, with just over half (52%) of people living in dwellings that needed at least one extra bedroom, compared with 16% of people in non-remote areas. Of those living in overcrowded dwellings in 2002, nearly half (44%) reported stress from overcrowding at home in the past 12 months. For more information on the measurement of overcrowding see National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2002 (4714.0).
Law and justice
In 2002, 24% of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over reported they had been a victim of physical or threatened violence in the past 12 months, nearly double the rate reported in 1994 (13%). However, some of this increase may reflect under-reporting by respondents to the 1994 NATSIS. Rates of victimisation were similar for people living in remote and non-remote areas (23% compared with 25%) and for men and women overall (26% compared with 23%). Rates of reported victimisation were higher among younger people (graph S5.6), unemployed people (38%) and those who reported that they had first been formally charged before the age of 17 years (44%).
After adjusting for age differences between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous people aged 18 years and over experienced double the victimisation rate of non-Indigenous persons (20% compared with 9%). These data are consistent with the very much higher rates in the Indigenous population of both hospitalisation and mortality due to assault (ABS & AIHW 2003).
Involvement in the criminal justice system
The proportion of Indigenous people who reported having been arrested at least once in the past five years declined by about a fifth between 1994 and 2002 (from 20% to 16%). In 2002, 7% of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over reported they had been incarcerated in the past five years. Males were far more likely than females to report they had been arrested (24% compared with 9%) and incarcerated (11% compared with 3%) in the past five years.
The data presented in this article represent only some of the insights that can be obtained from the NATSISS. Other topics covered in the survey include transport, alcohol consumption, smoking, child care, computer and Internet use, educational participation, mobility, substance use, removal from natural family, and use of legal services. Readers interested in undertaking further analysis of the data are referred to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey: Data Reference Package, 2002 (4714.0.55.002).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics)
ABS & AIHW 2003 (Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2003, Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2003, cat. no. 4704.0, ABS, Canberra
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