Case in point: a new bipartisan Economic Innovation Group poll that shows black and Latino voters in the nation’s swing states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado – were far less worried than their white counterparts about the economy. In the case of black likely voters, they described a far more hopeful picture of both the current and future state of the U.S. economy.
Yes, you read that correctly. Despite unemployment figures that easily exceed those of white Americans and household economic measures that indicate greater fragility, black and Latino likely voters were more likely to describe the current economy as sound and the economic future bright than their generally more prosperous white counterparts.
White Americans in April had a 4.7 percent unemployment rate and earned a median incoming of $58,270 in 2013 (the most recent figures available). But 68 percent of these likely voters in swing states told pollsters the country is “headed in the wrong direction,” and 65 percent described the state of the current economy as “not so good or poor.”
For Hispanics, the economic recovery left the group with a 6.9 percent unemployment rate in April and a median income of $40,963. And on some questions, Latino likely voters in swing states were more closely aligned with their white counterparts. About 65 percent told pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction and 54 percent said the country’s economy is, “not so good or poor.”
But black likely voters in the swing states see a very different America. Only 36 percent agreed with the idea that the current state of the economy is “not so good or poor,” and 64 percent described it as “good or excellent.” And yes, these answers came from likely voters culled from a population that experienced 9.6 percent unemployment in April and earned a median of $34,598 -- far less prosperous numbers than whites and a little less so than Hispanics. And yet, they have the rosiest view.
What’s going on here?
The easy answer is an over-riding -- critics would say irrational -- faith in the nation's first black president, Barack Obama.
There’s no doubt that some measure of positivity lingers in black America after Obama’s initially unlikely and then precedent-setting election in 2008. But long after Obama had taken office -- and his administration had repeatedly rebuffed suggestions that it tailor policies to extremely elevated black unemployment and disproportionate home foreclosures -- black economic optimism had begun to surface in other national polls.
But there are also some reasons why this optimism might actually have little to do with the alleged cult of Obama.
The first is that black Americans have seen their unemployment rate drop from a high of 16.2 percent in March 2010 to 9.6 percent in April (new unemployment figures will be released Friday). And blacks have ranked among the most frequent beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act, with about 8 million African Americans – more than any other group, except Latinos -- gaining health insurance as a result of the law.
At a household level, that means that while many black Americans lost a job or know someone well who did during the recession, they also very likely saw some people find jobs or found a new one themselves. And someone with chronic or even minor health problems who can now see a doctor and access preventative care at little to no cost, quite logically, might walk around with the sense that things are on the upswing.
Then, there’s something else -- something I like to call economic resilience. "Resilience" -- the ability to maintain perspective, recover or adapt to stressful even deeply troubling conditions -- is a term that mental health workers and sociologists use a fair bit. But so do economists when talking about national economies. Economies in which the capacity to adjust to unavoidable shocks and changes, recover from the unexpected and move forward is nurtured are considered “resilient.”
For African-American likely voters in swing states, it's logical to think that long-standing economic problems could have primed them for the worst of the Great Recession. If your economy (and the policies affecting your neighborhoods) have never been particularly and consistently favorable, you learn to adapt, to roll with the economic punches, to find different ways to survive and to see slivers of hope even when they are particularly thin.
For most of the rest of America -- and particularly white America -- the idea of generational progress, forward momentum and even some insularity from the worst kinds of household economic instability before the Great Recession might have, well, left them particularly unprepared, then scarred.
The Economic Innovation group is a bi-partisan think tank founded by tech-industry entrepreneuers and investors who say they want to advance centrist policies that expand opportunities for business builders and innovators. The poll included 800 likely voters.