Blacks and Hispanics More Optimistic Than Whites About the Economy

A nationwide survey shows that blacks are more hopeful about the future despite being hit hard by the downturn.

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Michael Williamson

Are American minorities unduly optimistic about their economic condition and future? A nationwide survey of attitudes about the recession and its impact shows that blacks and Hispanics, although hit harder by the economic downturn, are more upbeat than white Americans about the economy and the future of the United States.

Blacks and Hispanics are also more optimistic about an economic turnaround than whites. Among blacks, 32 percent said the economy is recovering, while only 19 percent of whites and 13 percent of Hispanics agreed that the situation was improving.

The responses came from a recent nationwide survey of 1,959 adults that captured minority and white attitudes on topics including financial condition, homeownership, the state of the economy and the prospects for their children. The survey was conducted by the Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The Post shared the survey data with The Root.

The overall financial condition of U.S. minorities is worse than that of whites, and the gap has widened during the four-year recession. In January 2011, the unemployment rate for blacks was 15.7 percent and 11.9 percent for Hispanics. The white unemployment rate was 8 percent. Among black teens, 45 percent were jobless, and the ripple effect of unemployment and underemployment scars all minority communities.

Yet 24 percent of Hispanics and blacks surveyed said that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the nation's economic situation, compared with just 12 percent of whites -- although few minorities work in recession-resistant sectors, and most labor in low-wage, low-skill manual or service jobs.

Perhaps these respondents, attuned to the slightest economic tremors, sense that a recessionary bottom had been reached and a rebound is beginning. Since the Great Recession began in 2007, firms have shed workers, sent work overseas, tamed unions and slashed benefits. The result: golden 2010 profits, higher stock prices and a slight rise in consumer spending.

Minorities understand well the "last in, first out" mentality of business. Comedian and social commentator Dick Gregory wrote in his 1962 book, From the Back of the Bus, "My people have never known what job security is. For instance, come another recession, and the economy has to tighten its belt -- who do you think's gonna be the first notch?" 

While minorities leaned distinctly toward the positive in their survey responses, the majority of all three groups agreed that they were unhappy with the economy. For example, 86 percent of white workers were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the economic situation, versus 72 percent of black workers and 75 percent of Hispanics. White pessimism may have been exacerbated by the fact that the ax fell harder on this group than it has in the past, when layoffs affected whites much less than they did blacks or Hispanics.

Attitudes also diverged by race when survey respondents were asked about their own financial situation. Sixty percent of whites -- who on average own more securities, property and insurance than minorities -- were very or somewhat satisfied with their finances. Yet at least 30 percent of whites, perhaps affected by job loss, fallen stocks or high mortgage payments, were somewhat or very dissatisfied about their financial condition.

By contrast, most minority workers have very little financial cushion. Only 47 percent of Hispanics and 51 percent of blacks were very or somewhat satisfied with their financial condition. Instead, nearly half of blacks and Hispanics surveyed were not satisfied.

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