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Blacks, Hispanics more optimistic than whites

Updated: Thursday, August 1 2013, 11:49 AM PDT
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Hope Yen - Associated Press

up as a black teen, John Harris III says he wasn't always sure about
what he wanted to do with his life. But the 23-year-old, now part of the
first generation of college students who saw the nation's first black
president elected, points to a newfound sense of purpose for him and
other black graduates.

A new analysis by the Associated Press-NORC
Center for Public Affairs Research shows many in the black and Hispanic
communities share Harris' optimism. America's minorities are now far
more optimistic about their economic future than whites and by the
widest margin since at least 1987.

"We feel more independent,"
said Harris, a recent graduate of historically black Howard University,
who now works to reduce homelessness. "We feel like we're worth more,
because we see it every day on the TV, hear it on the radio and are
beginning to see it more in our communities."

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, according to the analysis. Blacks and Hispanics,
meanwhile, have sustained high levels of optimism despite being hit hard
in the recent recession.

The findings come as President Barack Obama
seeks to promote a broader message of economic opportunity amid a
rising gap between rich and poor. The AP reported this week that 4 out
of 5 U.S. adults have struggled with joblessness, near poverty or
reliance on welfare for at least part of their lives, with white
pessimism about their economic future at a 25-year high. More than 40
percent of the poor are white.

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
nonwhites rose, while whites' optimism declined.

Blacks' hopefulness isn't limited to the future; they also express a positive outlook on their current financial standing.

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
versus 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."

Harris, of
Washington, D.C., says after seeing an increasing number of people who
serve as black role models, he and other black college graduates in
their 20s and 30s have become motivated to excel and help people of all
races who are in need. Harris now works for AmeriCorps, the national
service program.

Still, there are limits, he said. "I am hopeful
that the economy will improve, but it won't be because of politicians,"
Harris said, noting the recent gridlock in Washington that has curtailed
Obama's agenda. But the racial differences in optimism aren't strictly a
partisan divide — they remain even when accounting for partisanship and
other demographic and socioeconomic factors.

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.

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.

William Julius Wilson, a Harvard
professor who specializes in race and poverty, noted that in the last
decade the impact of the weak economy has tended to affect lower-skilled
whites and minorities more equally. But he says while blacks have the
"powerful symbolic effect" of Obama's election, noncollege whites have
no such "positive subjective feelings to offset or blunt their

The economically anxious include Eugene Lester, a
12-year mining employee in the white working-class community of Buchanan
County, Va. While jobs were plentiful in the 1970s and 1980s, federal
policy has since made it harder for coal-producing areas like Buchanan
to stay afloat, he said. The county has a poverty rate of 24 percent.

scary as hell; I'm afraid every day to go out to work and not have a
job," said Lester, 35, a father of two young children. "I remember when I
was growing up, my dad, he could quit a job this morning and be working
on another by 12:00."

But now, "the economy around here, if something doesn't happen soon, the economy's over."

AP-NORC Center analysis is based on AP polling conducted with GfK Roper
Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and with Ipsos Public
Affairs, as well as the General Social Survey. The GSS has a margin of
error of up to plus or minus 3.1 percentage points; the AP polls have a
margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.


is AP's director of polling. Associated Press News Survey Specialist
Dennis Junius and writer Debra McCown in Buchanan County, Va.,
contributed to this report.

Blacks, Hispanics more optimistic than whites
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