20 November 2015

Weighing the Woes of White Americans

Janell Ross in the Washington Post this week:

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday [PDF download], a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups.
To be precise, half of all white Americans feel that way. Less than 30% of blacks and Hispanics agree. Ross continues:
White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

Of course, there are always aspects of other people's lives that we do not or cannot understand. But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group.

That's true of housing and neighborhood quality and homeownership. That's true of overall health, health insurance coverage rates, quality of health care received, life expectancy and infant mortality. That's true when it comes to median household earnings, wealth (assets minus debt), retirement savings and even who has a bank account. . . .

White Americans are, as a group, born healthier and live longer and get better health care, jobs, education and housing in the years in between. Yet half of white Americans believe that discrimination against them is as big a problem in their lives as it is for those of people of color. But there's just no evidence to back that up.

What does exist is ample evidence of continued-but-shrinking racial and ethnic inequality in many arenas and utter stagnation and backsliding in others. Basically, what's changed since the 1950s — outside of technological innovations such as this here Internet — is that white Americans no longer have an exclusive or almost-exclusive hold on the best housing, jobs, schools or the ballot box.
The question on the latest PRRI American Values Survey was “Just your impression, in the United States today, is there a lot of discrimination against any of the following groups or not?”

In past polls, the most comparable question has been whether respondents agree with the statement “We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.” Agreement hovered between 38% and 49% from 1987 to 2012. So the perception that, despite empirical evidence, whites suffer from discrimination as much or more than non-whites doesn’t appear to be new, nor growing, in that period.

The new survey also notes that the perception of anti-white discrimination among whites is much higher within the “working class” (60%) than among people with college degrees (36%). A recent analysis of American mortality rates from 1999 to 2013 by Anne Case and Angus Deaton also found that educational difference was a significant dividing line among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans. People who had any college education died at a slightly smaller rate over that period. But mortality for people who had no college had gone up so much as to produce a strikingly higher mortality rate for the entire age/race cohort.

Thus, white Americans without college education might well be justified in perceiving a more difficult life than they expected. But they’re more likely to blame that on “discrimination” against whites rather than, say, a changing economy.

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