Many whites see blacks as equally prosperous: Perceptions are out of step with reality, survey finds

Whether out of hostility, indifference or simple lack of knowledge, large numbers of white Americans incorrectly believe that African Americans are as well off as whites in terms of their jobs, incomes, schooling and health care, according to a national survey by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

Depending on the question, the poll found that 40 to 60 percent of all whites said that the average African American was faring about as well and perhaps even better than the average white American in these areas.

Government statistics show that African Americans have narrowed the gap. There have never been more blacks in the middle class or a larger share who have graduated from high school, gone to college or entered professional schools. But they continue to lag in employment, income, education and access to health care.

About six in 10 white respondents — 61 percent — said the average black person had equal or better access to health care than the average white.

In fact, African Americans are much more likely to be without health insurance than whites. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey found that blacks were almost twice as likely as whites to be without health insurance.

The survey found that almost half of all whites — 49 percent — wrongly believed that blacks and whites had similar levels of education.

About one in six blacks — 17 percent — have completed college, compared with 28 percent of all whites. And 88 percent of all whites are high school graduates, compared with 79 percent of all blacks 25 years old or older.

Half of all whites say that the average black is about as well off as the average white in terms of jobs, according to the survey. Again, the hard data are less positive: A third of all whites hold professional or managerial jobs, compared to slightly more than one-fifth of all African Americans, according to census data.

Blacks are about twice as likely as whites — 23 versus 12 percent — to hold lower-paying, less prestigious jobs. Blacks are more than twice as likely to be unemployed; in May, the jobless rate for blacks stood at 8 percent, compared with 3.8 percent for whites.

The poll found that a majority of whites — 57 percent — recognized that blacks on average earned less than whites. Still, four in 10 whites — 42 percent — believed incorrectly that the typical black earned as much as, or more than, the typical white.

In fact, substantial differences persist between black and white earnings. The median household income for whites was $44,366 in 1999, compared with $27, 910 for blacks. Fewer than three in 10 whites earn less than $25,000; nearly half of all blacks in 1999 earned less than that. And the poverty rate for blacks is more than double the white rate.