The Racial Optimism Gap

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in a lovely essay that Barack Obama’s “indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches.”

One amazing example of this came from this week’s Pew Social Trends survey which asked people about, among other things, the outlook for the future of the country. It’s an interesting finding in part because we can pretty rigorously quantify the objective economic circumstances facing white people and black people and it’s easy to see that not only are whites a good deal better off than blacks, but that the economic problems that began in the last year of the Bush administration and have continued throughout the Obama years have been particularly hard on African-Americans whose unemployment rate is more than double that of white households.

Obviously any time you have a politicized issue in the United States partisanship ends up playing a role, and it’s somewhat difficult to distinguish the impact of race per se from partisanship in a country where such an overwhelming majority of African-Americans are Democrats. But there’s good evidence that race is substantially impacting people’s views of the president’s dog, so it’s hard to look at that huge racial optimism gap and not see something there. Objectively speaking, the economic outlook for white people is pretty solid with steadily rising educational attainment in a world where education-linked income gaps loom larger than ever.