Blacks More Pessimistic Than Whites About Economic Opportunities

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Majority of blacks, Hispanics favor major government role to assist minorities

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The latest update of Gallup's annual poll on minority rights and relations shows that blacks continue to be decidedly more pessimistic than whites about whether blacks have equal opportunities in education, housing, and especially jobs. Overall, Americans tend to believe blacks have achieved equality of opportunity in these areas, but only a bare majority of blacks think this applies in terms of education and housing, and most blacks say they do not have the same chances that whites do to get any kind of job for which they are qualified. The public is divided on how much of a role the government should play in helping minorities improve their social and economic positions, with whites tending to favor a minor role and blacks and Hispanics wanting a major government role.

These results are based on Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations poll, conducted June 9-30. This poll includes larger samples of blacks and Hispanics allowing for an in-depth look at minority opinion on race relations in the United States.

Blacks More Pessimistic Than Optimistic About Job Opportunities

Generally speaking, Americans believe that blacks have as good a chance as whites do to get any kind of job for which they are qualified; 72% hold this view, while 26% say blacks don't have as good a chance. Gallup first asked this question in 1963, at which time two separate readings showed only about 4 in 10 Americans believing blacks had equal job opportunities as whites.

While both whites (77%) and Hispanics (69%) believe that blacks have equal job opportunities, blacks generally do not endorse this view. Just 41% of blacks say they have the same job opportunities that whites do, while 57% say they do not.

Blacks' views on this matter have become slightly more pessimistic in recent years. In October 1995, shortly after the Million Man March, a majority of blacks felt they had equal job opportunities. That declined slightly to 46% in an early 1997 poll, and by 1999 had dropped back to the current level of about 4 in 10. Even so, the current level is more positive than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, and about where it was in 1989 to 1991.

Over time, whites' views of blacks' job opportunities have generally become more positive. The 77% who currently believe blacks have equal job opportunities is high by historical standards but slightly lower than it was in 1998, when 82% of whites believed blacks had equal job opportunities.

Educational and Housing Opportunities

Americans, including blacks, are more positive in their assessments of blacks' opportunities in education and housing than they are about blacks' job opportunities. Eighty percent of U.S. adults say black children in their local communities have as good a chance as white children do to get a good education, while just 19% believe they do not have as good a chance. Again, whites (86%) and Hispanics (77%) are much more likely to hold this view than are blacks (51%), but a majority of blacks still agree.

Nevertheless, blacks have grown increasingly pessimistic about educational opportunities for black children in recent years. The 51% rating is among the lowest Gallup has measured, and is about where it was during the early stages of the civil rights movement -- in 1962, 53% of blacks held this view. As recently as 1997, more than 6 in 10 blacks said black children had as good educational opportunities as white children had. The decline was first evident in 1999, before showing a further drop in 2001; opinion has stabilized since.

Meanwhile, whites' views on educational opportunities for black children have remained relatively stable; since the question was first asked in 1962, about 8 in 10 have said that blacks have as good a chance as whites. The current level is one of the highest Gallup has measured for whites on this question.

In regard to housing, 81% of Americans say blacks have as good a chance as whites in their communities to get any housing they can afford, while 18% disagree. These results have been fairly steady since the latter 1990s, and represent an increase from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when about 7 in 10 held this view.

Eighty-six percent of whites and 74% of Hispanics believe blacks have equal housing opportunities, compared with 55% of blacks who share this view.

Blacks' views of their housing opportunities have varied over the years -- the 55% who believe they have the opportunities whites do represents an increase from 2001 and 2002 Gallup surveys, when 48% of blacks felt that way. Black opinion in the current survey is similar to what it was throughout most of the 1990s. Whites' views on black housing opportunities have been stable for the past seven years, and are more positive than they were in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Government Assistance for Minorities

Even though the consensus in all three areas is that blacks have opportunities equal to whites', the public is somewhat divided in its view of the extent to which the government should try to improve the social and economic position of minority groups. Forty percent of Americans say the government should play a major role, 45% a minor role, and 14% say no role at all.

Members of minority groups, however, believe that government should play a major role. Sixty-eight percent of blacks say the government should take on a major role, compared with just 32% of whites (the majority of whites, 51%, say government should have a minor role in improving conditions for minorities). And while Hispanics generally believe blacks have equal opportunities as whites, 67% still favor a major role for the government to promote advancement for blacks and other minorities.

In addition to the differences by race and ethnicity, views on this matter diverge by age and partisanship. Fifty-four percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe government should have a major role in helping minorities, compared with 38% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 39% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and just 27% of those 65 and older. A majority of Democrats (54%) favor a major role for government, compared with 47% of independents and only 22% of Republicans (63% of Republicans favor a minor government role).

Democrats and Republicans differ greatly in their perceptions of whether blacks have equal opportunities as whites, which helps explain in part their divergent views on government assistance to minorities. Interestingly, younger and older Americans generally have similar views regarding minority opportunities; so younger Americans' support may be due more to general support for government action among this age group than as a proposed remedy to the problem.

Survey Methods

The results are based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,250 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 9-30, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For results based on the sample of 816 non-Hispanic whites, aged 18 and older, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 801 blacks, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 503 Hispanics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points. (164 out of the 503 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish.)

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