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Economy Poll: African Americans, Hispanics Were Hit Hardest But Are Most Optimistic

62 percent of blacks believe their family's financial situation will improve.

Blacks see some hope

Analysts who study black prosperity say the optimism is rooted in long experience with hard times. They say that now many African Americans sense attention to their struggles at the highest levels of government, something that was not evident before the recession.

Other surveys have found that African Americans were encouraged by the election of President Obama, whose policies to expand health-care coverage and increase education aid are likely to help them the most, given their past struggles.

"When you look at what has been going on in the African American community, it is not just that the recession was worse for them but also the previous business cycle was worse for them," said Christian E. Weller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Wages, homeownership rates and employment levels all grew worse for African Americans between 2000 and 2007, a time in which the overall economy expanded.

Since then, things have gotten worse.

The Obama administration's $814 billion stimulus package is credited by many economists with preventing an even more severe downturn, yet black unemployment soared to its highest levels in a generation on Obama's watch. The black jobless rate stands at 15.7 percent, far higher than the overall rate of 9 percent. The jobless rate for Hispanics is 11.9 percent, and for whites it is 8 percent.

African Americans nonetheless are strongly supportive of Obama's economic policies, according to the new Post-Kaiser-Harvard survey. Nearly six in 10 said they think the president's actions are making the economy better.

"I think the Obama administration could do more to spur the economy," said Ken Pulliam, an African American from Charlotte who works in finance. "Going forward, this will prove difficult given the Republican House."

Pulliam defended Obama's stewardship of the job market, saying the economy has evolved in ways that make it difficult for low-skilled workers to prosper.

"Back during the Great Depression, there were a lot of jobs that could be filled with unskilled labor," Pulliam said. "Back then you could hire lots of people with shovels to dig a road. But today, you only need a few workers with specific skills in operating heavy machinery to build that same road. As a result, the stimulus hasn't been able to put a lot of unskilled labor back to work."

Asked whether the Obama administration is paying enough attention to the economic interests of African Americans, nearly two-thirds of black respondents said the government is doing "about the right amount."

Across a range of areas - including helping families, small businesses and working-class Americans - African Americans were far less likely than others to criticize the administration.

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