The difference in optimism between poor blacks and poor whites is nearly as big as the difference between the poor and the middle class overall: “The average score of poor blacks is large enough to eliminate the difference in optimism about the future between being poor and being middle class (e.g. removing the large negative effect of poverty),” Graham found.
In short, poor whites aren’t just poor: They’re also in a state of despair.
Graham says this optimism deficit could have devastating consequences. “Individuals with high levels of well-being have better outcomes; they believe in their futures and invest in them,” she writes. “In contrast, those without hope for their futures typically do not make such investments.”
Poor whites’ despair may partly be a response to certain social and economic trends. Death rates for middle-age whites have been essentially flat over the past 20 years, while mortality rates for other ethnic groups plummeted. Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin has found that although working-class blacks are generally better-off economically today than their parents were, working-class whites are generally worse off.