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Seven Snapshots From America's Working Class -- PICTURES Seven Snapshots From America's Working Class -- PICTURES

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Seven Snapshots From America's Working Class -- PICTURES

October 7, 2011

America's working class still dream of a better life and the totems -- the cottage, the career, the house -- that represent it, even in the grips of an economy that has snuffed so many hopes. The dreams, as this week's National Journal cover story explains, vary with the color of the dreamer's skin, but not in the way you'd expect.

(RELATED: Diverging Dreams)

Looking Up: Minorities still climbing America's economic ladder are more optimistic than whites who have already plateaued. More than a third of the labor force with less than a four-year college degree is now non-white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.(JON SILLA/RON FOURNIER/RALF-FINN HESTOFF)

A Future Hope: Divergence even bleeds into expectations for the next generation. Latinos and blacks are more than twice as likely to say that their children will have more opportunities than they did. Tierra Stewart, who works two jobs as a nursing assistant in South Caroline to pay the bills, has no doubt that her 2-year-old son Quay will go to college.(JON SILLA)

Still Losing Ground: Nearly every blue-collar family is losing household wealth. Hispanics lost two-thirds of their household wealth between 2005 and 2009, blacks lost more than half, and whites lost less than a fifth of theirs. Marcia Soto Rochel, a salon owner living in Chicago, had to sell the house where she raised her daughter after mortgage payments overwhelmed her dwindling customer base. (RALF-FINN HESTOFF)

 

The Optimism Gap: Minorities are far more likely than whites to say that their own economic opportunity exceeds their parents'. Rochel's daughter, Ambar Gonzalez, is an aspiring lawyer who landed a job out of college as an administrative assistant at an immigration law firm in downtown Chicago.(RALF-FINN HESTOFF)

A Dream to Be Realized?: Some three in five working-class blacks and Latinos say they haven't yet reached the American Dream, but that they expect to in their lifetimes. Whites in the same earning group were nearly twice as likely to say they've already reached it -- but, unlike their minority counterparts, most  don't believe they'll make enough money 10 years from now to live the lifestyle they desire.(JON SILLA)

Changing Attitudes: Although blue-collar whites are more likely to report feeling high levels of happiness, better health, and more social trust than working-class nonwhites, there's trouble lingering. Some, like Detroit firefighter Dave Miller, are losing faith in their financial security. Miller ran a construction business on the side to afford a vacation cottage on Lake Erie, but struggles with pessimistic feelings about his children's future. (RON FOURNIER)

 

A Way Out: Since 1980, only the highly educated have seen earnings gains. Gonzalez aced the LSAT after graduating from DePaul University in 2009 and is now applying to Georgetown, American, and George Washington law schools. Her dream? To move back to Chicago, start her own firm, and buy back the childhood home her mother had to sell.(RALF-FINN HESTOFF)

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