As the issue of race continues to factor in the presidential election, new data suggests it also plays an influential -- and divisive -- role in Americans' perceptions of the economy.
A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows that more than three-quarters of Americans think the country is on the "wrong track" -- not surprising in itself, considering the suffering economy, skyrocketing food and fuel prices, and various other polls echoing the negative sentiment. ABC News' Consumer Confidence Index, for instance, is languishing just a few points above its record low (-43 on a +100 to -100 scale, compared to -51 at the end of May). What may be surprising, however, is the disparity that LAT/Bloomberg pollsters recorded between the perspectives of blacks and whites.
While a full three-quarters of all respondents said the United States is worse off economically than it was eight years ago, a racial breakdown shows a whopping 93 percent of blacks think so, compared to 71 percent of whites. Furthermore, just over 10 percent of whites said the country is actually better off, while a miniscule 1 percent of blacks agreed. Disapproval ratings of President Bush also diverge drastically along race lines: While almost seven in 10 whites said they disapprove of the president, an overwhelming 92 percent of blacks said so.
About six in 10 of all respondents described the state of their personal finances as secure -- somewhat surprising considering their plummeting confidence in the economy. Once again, though, the overall number isn't representative of both whites and blacks. While almost 70 percent of whites indicated their finances are secure, only 37 percent of blacks said so. Even more alarming, the number of black respondents who described their finances as "shaky" is double that of whites: 62 percent to 31 percent.
Some degree of financial relief for Americans has come in the form of tax rebates. The LAT/Bloomberg poll recorded that just over three-quarters of respondents had received their checks. What they're going to do with those checks, though, once again differs between blacks and whites. Fifty-four percent of white Americans said they're going to spend it, compared to 64 percent of blacks. When asked how exactly they're going to spend the check, just over twice as many blacks as whites said the money is going toward gasoline, food, bills and other household expenses. Almost twice as many whites as blacks said they plan to spend the money on new purchases: 11 percent compared to 6 percent.
Tighter Times For Top Earners?
Gallup's daily tracking poll of consumer confidence has been highlighting another gap in economic outlook -- this one among income levels.
While more than half of respondents earning less than $24,000 have been rating the state of the economy as poor going back several months, respondents in the higher-income brackets have been much more positive. The percentage of Americans earning $24,000 to $60,000 who rate the economy as poor has been lingering under 50 percent in the last few months, and that number has remained below 40 percent among the big earners in the $60,000-$90,000 and $90,000-or-more categories.
Now, however, the wealthier respondents seem to be feeling the weight of the economy's slump. In January, pollsters recorded about 20 percent of the two high-income groups rating economic conditions as poor; now those numbers have roughly doubled, to 42 percent for the $60,000-$90,000 earners and 40 percent for those making $90,000 and up. The dramatic increase over the first half the year suggests the plunging economy may have begun spreading the wealth -- or lack thereof -- to Americans earning the big bucks.
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