Against The Odds? For Unknown Reasons Blacks And Latinos Continue To Be Optimistic About America

March 8, 2014  |  

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With blacks and Latinos being shut out of jobs, with the inequality gap growing, with racism alive and well, you’d wonder why these two demographics continue to be more optimistic about life in America and the economy. But for the past few years, surveys show whites are the ones who are more pessimistic.

Between 2008 and 2010, a large number of polls show that people of color were nearly twice as likely as whites to believe the state of the country was good. But a growing number of whites feel the opposite even though the economy is improving.

“The black unemployment rate has been roughly double that of whites for the last half-century. And the wealth gap between white Americans and black and Latino Americans — already large —has grown only wider in the years following the Great Recession,” reports NPR.

New polls by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health aimed to figure out why despite these depressing stats, blacks and Latinos remain optimistic.

“We see the biggest gap in optimism between in blacks and whites since 1987,” said Jennifer Benz of the National Opinion Research Center. Prior to this, blacks were more pessimistic and whites more optimistic. But now a 25-percentage-point optimism gap between whites and blacks and a 27-point gap between whites and Latinos, says Benz.

According to Benz, pollsters try to measure people’s optimism across a group of indices. For example,they might ask: “People like me and my family have a better chance of succeeding. Agree or disagree?”

“But pollsters can also look at optimism as ‘faith in government institutions,’ ” Benz said.  And 70 percent of the respondents who told the General Social Survey they were very confident in the government’s executive branch. After Barack Obama became President in 2008, blacks began to have more confidence in the executive branch. But Benz notes whites’ opinions about the government have basically remained flat.

“In January 2008 — 10 months before President Obama’s inauguration — a majority of whites told Gallup that they were optimistic about the direction of the country. But after President Obama’s first year as president, only 35 percent of whites said they felt that way,” reports NPR.

Still, the presidential effect doesn’t seem to explain what’s driving Latino optimism. After 2002, Latino opinion started keeping pace with the feelings of black Americans after years of being aligned with whites.

Researchers don’t completely understand the phenomenon. What are your thoughts?

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