Economy poll: African Americans, Hispanics were hit hardest but are most optimistic

African Americans in Prince George's County, Md., grapple with how to get by as they face increasing unemployment and foreclosure.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 12:03 AM

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.

"Things are stuck in place right now," said Faye Brown, an African American retiree from Detroit who said she has burned through her savings and watched the value of her home erode by $24,000 during the downturn. "But the newer generation - the technology generation - is going to make things better."

Similarly, McKinney Love, a 48-year-old home health-care worker from Detroit, said: "I see improvement. I was just reading on the news last night that unemployment here - instead of being 600,000 people applying, there was only 400,000. That speaks for itself."

Nearly four in 10 African Americans said they adjusted their housing situations in the past three years to cope with the crisis. Nearly one in three borrowed money from friends or relatives to get by. More than a quarter lost their health insurance coverage or other benefits in the past year.

Though African Americans overall have been severely hurt by the recession, Hispanics reported being hit even harder. Nearly four in 10 said their households have suffered job losses.

Among employed Hispanics, nearly four in 10 say their families would be in real financial trouble within one month if their paychecks stopped.

The fresh wave of insecurity has reversed years of Hispanic economic progress in which homeownership and employment rates rose and poverty rates generally decreased.

A third of working Hispanics - more than in any other group - felt insecure in their jobs. Nearly one-third said they lost their health insurance or other benefits. And Hispanics were the most likely to be "underemployed," either jobless or eager to work more than they do.

Denise Miller, 28, has been looking for full-time work as a teacher in El Paso.

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