Black Americans are famously optimistic. Perhaps it is due to the circumstances of the arrival of Africans as slaves in this country that has spawned a positive outlook despite hundreds of years of struggle. With little else to cling to except hope, Blacks may have developed a defense mechanism that enabled survival through slavery, Jim Crow and present-day economic starvation. At least, that is one way to look at the findings of a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University survey.
In the midst of a historic recession that is only rivaled in the nation’s history by the Great Depression, when Blacks have been dealt the equivalent of a low-blow, the survey reveals that Black Americans are optimistic about their future economic fortunes. That’s right. Despite facing record unemployment, the prospect of long-term joblessness, and home foreclosures, Blacks remain hopeful that their fortunes will improve. The positive outlook is in some part attributable to the Obama presidency and the emotional investment Blacks have in the nation’s first African-American President and the desire to see Barack Obama succeed. Whether loyalty trumps economic reality remains to be seen, but for the time being Blacks are standing by their man.
The Washington Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey reveals the dichotomy of Black life in the United States. On the one hand, Blacks are fully aware of the devastation that has resulted from the recession that began in December 2007 because many have been personally touched or know someone who has been affected. Still, hard times are not new to Blacks and survival instincts may help explain why current economic conditions have not set off a panic in the Black community. Starting off at a disadvantage at the onset of the recession, Black expectations for immediate inclusion in a recovery might well be low. Still, the attitudes of Blacks are surprising when considering the depth of their displacement in the economy.
When asked the question - Looking ahead, would you say that you feel mostly optimistic or mostly pessimistic about your future? - 85 percent of Black respondents said they were optimistic and only 10 percent expressed pessimism. On the same question, only 72 percent of white and Hispanic respondents indicated they were optimistic. At the same time only 27 percent of Blacks had a positive outlook on their own personal financial situation and 33 percent had a negative outlook. Meanwhile, 31 percent of whites had a positive and negative outlook on their on personal financial situation, and 26 percent of Hispanics surveyed had a positive outlook and 39 percent had a negative outlook. So, while Blacks are optimistic about their future, they are not looking at their present situation through rose colored glasses.
The findings offer more complexities in the attitudes of Blacks concerning the recession. In line with whites (51 percent) and Hispanics (52 percent), 53 percent of Black respondents said their own standard of living was better than when their parents were their age. However, 60 percent of Blacks said they believed their children’s standard of living will be better when their offspring reached their age, as compared to 36 percent of whites and 56 percent of Hispanics who expected their children’s standard of living to exceed their own.
What is also clear from the survey is that jobs is the priority for Blacks, with 36 percent citing the job situation as the national economic issue that worries them the most compared to rising prices (22 percent), the cost of health care (21 percent) and problems in the financial and housing markets (7 percent). Whites, on the other hand, cited the federal budget deficit (27 percent) as the national economic issue that worries them most, followed by the job situation (20 percent).
When posed the question as to what group they thought had been hit hardest by the recession, there were some very revealing responses. Blacks (43 percent) identified themselves as the hardest hit by the recession and 22 percent said that whites were harder hit over 18 percent of Blacks who believe Hispanics have been impacted most. Conversely, 37 percent of Hispanics indicated they believed they were hit harder by the recession and 26 percent said Blacks were harder hit.
The Obama administration can take some comfort in knowing that Blacks are not taking out their personal economic misfortune on the President. Despite identifying the job situation as their major worry, 59 percent of Blacks said they thought the administration’s economic program is making the economy better. This is good news for President Obama since he will need to have Black voters firmly behind him in 2012 in what will likely be a bruising reelection campaign. Most telling is that only 18 percent of white respondents think the administration’s economic agenda is making the economy better and 36 percent believe the administration is making it worse. Mirroring that racial divide, 54 percent of whites surveyed said they believed the Obama administration is doing too little for their family.