Survey: African Americans Fearful Of U.S. Economy
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And now another chapter in our series on African-American Lives. NPR polled more than a thousand African-Americans about a wide range of topics: their health, financial security, jobs, families and neighborhoods. The poll was conducted in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and also the Harvard School of Public Health.
Overall, this survey found optimism for the future. But many still expressed fears about the current state of the economy. NPR's Kathy Lohr talked with some families about their financial picture.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Monica Donaldson moved from Miami to Kennesaw, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, in 2006 because the cost of living here is cheaper. She's an administrative assistant at an area school district where the budget is tight.
MONICA DONALDSON: They're talking about eliminating positions, so I'm a kind of like a little bit nervous.
LOHR: Sitting around a high-top table in her small kitchen, Donaldson says she lost her home because rising interest rates raised her payment above what she could afford. Since then, she's moved a couple of times and eaten up her savings.
MONICA DONALDSON: I think it's been a struggle for a long, long, long time.
LOHR: Donaldson is a single mother with one daughter, Danielle, still living at home. Danielle is taking out loans for college. Monica says she had to take several furlough days this year, which left her paychecks short. So Danielle works part time in retail, to help with food and gas.
DANIELLE DONALDSON: Well, it actually makes me scared to think that we're one paycheck away from being homeless. It puts a lot of things in perspective 'cause we do try to cut back on things. Like, it's just scary to me.
LOHR: In our poll, half the African-Americans surveyed said they see themselves in a financial situation that is not so good, or poor. One of the top worries among the group is that they, or someone in their household, could be out of work in the next 12 months. The unemployment rate is 7.6 percent nationally, while the jobless rate for African-Americans is 13.5 percent.
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LOHR: Delores Bradford scrapes together rice, butter and chicken stock in a heavy duty, cast-iron skillet. She's had a number of jobs, from cook in a local school to office worker. Bradford, who's in her 50s, says she was laid off several times and hasn't worked for six years. She moved in with her mother in Lithonia, east of Atlanta, and says the area needs more jobs that pay a living wage.
DELORES BRADFORD: Jobs that's paying at least, I would say at least 10 or 10.50 an hour, so someone can see that they can put a little money aside and still live comfortable.
LOHR: Bradford says she continues to apply for jobs, and she thinks she will find something in the next year. That positive outlook is reflected in our poll. Robert Blendon is professor of Public Health at Harvard and one of the study's co-directors. He says even though many African-Americans face financial problems, there's also real optimism.
ROBERT BLENDON: And that sense of optimism, with all the problems we found, is really a very important thing to recognize. 'Cause that's what carries people through life, is their sense that things can be a lot better for them in the future.
LOHR: In many cases, Blendon says this attitude stems from the fact that many of those who took the poll see themselves as doing better than their parents did, even though they have fears about job stability.
Chinenye Oparah is in his 30s and has a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. He's worked in construction and in the Fayetteville, Georgia school district. He was laid off from both jobs but has started his own business.
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LOHR: Oparah got a contract to remove computer systems and projectors from schools that are closing. But it's not a full time job.
CHINENYE OPARAH: I didn't think that in 10 years this is what I'd be - how much I'd be making and what I'd be doing.
LOHR: Both he and his wife had full-time and part-time jobs but dropped the part-time positions when their daughter came along. The couple filed for bankruptcy two years ago and is doing better, but Oparah says making ends meet is a challenge.
OPARAH: I actually kind of like working hard but it's been a struggle to balance working hard, bringing home enough to sustain, and then spending time with family, spending time with our daughter.
LOHR: Still, he says, things are slowly turning around for his family.
OPARAH: I'm optimistic about us and hopeful, faithful, prayerful that something is going to work out in the very near future.
LOHR: That's exactly the dichotomy our survey found. Even with financial uncertainty, 53 percent of African-Americans who responded said their lives have gotten better in recent years. Sixty percent said while they had not yet achieved the American Dream of a nice home and financial security, they believe eventually they will.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.