A few months back, I argued that voters’ anger stems more from longer-run anxiety than from concern over their immediate economic prospects. Sure, unemployment is low and incomes are rising again, but Americans are worried about slow wage growth, ballooning student loan balances and inadequate retirement savings. Gallup in recent months has shown a divergence between Americans’ relatively positive assessment of their current economic conditions and their increasingly pessimistic outlook.
But for many non-whites, the pattern is the opposite: They are concerned about the present but optimistic about the future. In the Pew poll, Hispanics were sober about their immediate financial circumstances — 40 percent said their finances were in good shape, compared with 43 percent for the public at large — but they see brighter days ahead. More than 70 percent expect their children to be better off than they are. Previous polls have found similar results for other minority groups: According to 2014 data from the General Social Survey, three-quarters of blacks and Hispanics expect their children to enjoy a higher standard of living than they do, compared to just half of whites. A poll commissioned by The Atlantic last fall found that blacks, Hispanics and Asians were far more likely than whites to report that “the American Dream is alive and well.”
That optimism might seem surprising given high rates of unemployment and poverty among Hispanics and, to an even greater degree, African-Americans. But views of the future are heavily influenced by views of the past. It’s hardly surprising that blacks and Hispanics are less nostalgic than whites for an era when they were, explicitly, second-class citizens. In the Atlantic survey, blacks, Hispanics and Asians were far less likely than whites to say that “America’s best days are behind us.”