Despite severe losses during the recession, the majority of African-Americans see the economy improving and are confident that their financial prospects will improve soon.
That optimism, shared to a lesser degree by Hispanics, stands in stark contrast to the deeper pessimism expressed by a majority of whites. In general, whites are more satisfied with their personal financial situations but also more sour about the nation’s economic prospects.
Those are among the findings of a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll that probed attitudes in the wake of a downturn that more than doubled unemployment and wiped away nearly a fifth of Americans’ net worth.
African-Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be left broke, jobless and concerned that they lack the skills needed to shape their economic futures. But they also remained the most hopeful that the economy would soon right itself and allow them to prosper.
Despite the setbacks, Hispanics also remain optimistic. Two-thirds said people can still get ahead if they are willing to work hard. Just over half predicted that their family’s financial situation will improve over the next year.
Whites, also buffeted by the long recession, are the most resentful of government action and far less optimistic about what is ahead financially, both for their own families and for the country as whole.
Whites also are far less likely than blacks or Hispanics to think their children will be better off than they themselves are now. Whites also are most likely to say, “It will be a long time before the economy recovers.”
And among those who have shifted their lifestyles over the course of the economic downturn, whites are the most likely to see those changes as permanent.
Most whites say the economic situation is a cause of stress in their lives, and half say they are frustrated.
While the stated stress level among African-Americans is lower, some data show a heavier toll. The downturn obliterated years of African-American economic progress — strides that were on shaky ground even before the recession. The share of black adults who were working slid to 52 percent, nearly seven points behind whites and Hispanics. In 2001, nearly 65 percent of white adults and just over 60 percent of blacks were employed.
At the same time, some of the most reliable paths for blacks to ascend to the middle class are in danger of being narrowed.
Federal, state and local governments, which employ a disproportionate share of African-Americans, are shedding jobs, a trend expected to continue in coming years. Meanwhile, the auto industry, long a bastion of high-paying, stable jobs that helped sustain many black middle-class families throughout the industrial Midwest, has been significantly downsized.
Still, a substantial majority of African-Americans are bullish about the future. More than half say they are better off than their parents were at the same age, and six in 10 are confident that their children will be even more prosperous.