Hope Yen and Jennifer Agiesta, My Way, August 1, 2013
Americans’ attitudes about their economic future are sharply divided by race, with whites significantly less likely than blacks or Hispanics to think they can improve their own standard of living. Indeed, optimism among minorities now outpaces that of whites by the widest margin since at least 1987, a new analysis shows.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research analysis shows that after years of economic attitudes among whites, blacks and Hispanics following similar patterns, whites’ confidence in their economic future has plummeted in the last decade. Blacks and Hispanics, meanwhile, have sustained high levels of optimism despite being hit hard in the recent recession.
The AP-NORC analysis of data from the General Social Survey, a long-running biannual survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found just 46 percent of whites say their family has a good chance of improving their living standard given the way things are in America, the lowest level in surveys conducted since 1987. In contrast, 71 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics express optimism of an improved life–the biggest gap with whites since the survey began asking.
Blacks and Hispanics diverged sharply from whites on this question following Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president in 2008. Economic optimism among non-whites rose, while whites’ optimism declined.
Blacks’ hopefulness isn’t limited to the future; they also express a positive outlook on their current financial standing.
For the first time since 1972, the share of blacks who reported that their financial situation had improved in the last few years surpassed that of whites. The tip occurred in 2010, when the percentage of whites reporting an improvement to their financial situation fell to 24 percent vs. 30 percent for blacks.
“In the minority community, as perceptions of discrimination lessen a bit with the election of an African-American president, people see a greater ability to succeed,” said Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic consultant who closely tracks voter sentiment. “Many working-class whites, on the other hand, see dwindling opportunities as manufacturing and other jobs that once enabled them to get ahead just aren’t available.”
The AP-NORC analysis also finds that, based on a separate measure of optimism–one that tracked the percentage of people who believe the country is moving in the right direction – blacks’ optimism since Obama’s election was on average 39 percentage points higher than whites’ assessment of the country’s direction. That represents a reversal from earlier in the decade, when white optimism exceeded that of blacks by an average 18 percentage points.
Hispanic optimism about the country’s direction also surpassed that of whites after 2008.
The increases in minority optimism come despite any real improvement for blacks and Hispanics relative to whites based on economic measures of unemployment, median income and median net worth. For instance, since 2005, whites as a group lost 15 percent of their net worth, compared with 43 percent for blacks.