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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.

"With all the cutbacks, it is hard to find a job," said Miller, a Hispanic mother of two. "I'm substituting, but I'd rather have a full-time job."

Despite the setbacks, Hispanics also remain optimistic. Two-thirds said people can still get ahead if they are willing to work hard. Just over half predicted that their family's financial situation will improve over the next year.

Whites less optimistic

Whites, also buffeted by the long recession, are the most resentful of government action and far less optimistic about what is ahead financially, both for their own families and for the country as whole.

"I think things are going to get worse before they get better. A lot of people are going to have to buckle down because we've got a generation now that doesn't work," said David Still, 54, a married, white father of two who works as an electrician in Sumter, S.C. "You got people who were brought up on state support and things like that. When you can get as much money sitting at home as working, you are going to do that."

Whites are also far less likely than blacks or Hispanics to think their children will be better off than they themselves are now. Whites also are most likely to say, "It will be a long time before the economy recovers."

And among those who have shifted their lifestyles over the course of the economic downturn, whites are the most likely to see those changes as permanent.

Most whites say the economic situation is a cause of stress in their lives, and half say they are frustrated.

While the stated stress level among African Americans is lower, some data show a heavier toll. The downturn obliterated years of African American economic progress- strides that were on shaky ground even before the recession. The share of black adults who were working slid to 52 percent, nearly seven points behind whites and Hispanics. In 2001, nearly 65 percent of white adults and just over 60 percent of blacks were employed.

Homeownership, which remains the primary engine of wealth creation for many Americans, has slipped among African Americans. The foreclosure crisis pushed the black homeownership rate down to 45 percent, far below the 74 percent rate for whites, and the lowest rate since 1997.

At the same time, some of the most reliable paths for blacks to ascend to the middle class are in danger of being narrowed.

Federal, state and local governments, which employ a disproportionate share of African Americans, are shedding jobs, a trend expected to continue in coming years. Meanwhile, the auto industry, long a bastion of high-paying, stable jobs that helped sustain many black middle-class families throughout the industrial Midwest, has been significantly downsized.

Still, a substantial majority of African Americans are bullish about the future. More than half say they are better off than their parents were at the same age, and six in 10 are confident that their children will be even more prosperous.

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