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The divided economic lives of America's whites and blacks

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Whites and blacks in the United States of America are anything but united when it comes to how they experience life.

About four out of 10 black Americans are skeptical that the U.S. will ever achieve racial quality, compared with just one out of 10 whites, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center on how Americans experience and view race. There's a reason for why blacks are so pessimistic, given that 71 percent said they had personally experienced discrimination or were unfairly treated because of the color of their skin.

The findings come at a time when Americans are increasingly facing questions about racial inequality, following the deaths of unarmed blacks by police officers, which sparked the Black Lives Matter campaign. President Obama, whose 2008 election sparked hopes for greater racial equality, will leave office early next year with only 19 percent of Americans saying they believe race relations are improving. At the same time, the country is growing increasingly diverse, with younger generations reaching a tipping point where whites are in the minority.

"When it comes to issue of race, whether that's the general state of race relations or more specifically how they perceive day to day life, blacks and whites seem to be living in different worlds," said Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew.

The research organization wanted to take the nation's temperature on race and inequality during the last year of Obama's final term as president, Horowitz said. When Pew asked Americans after he was elected in 2008 about whether they felt Obama would improve race relations, both blacks and whites were optimistic.

Today, Americans appear to be split on the issue. About one-third said they believe Obama made progress on race relations, but about 28 percent said he tried and failed. Yet another 25 percent said Obama made race relations worse, the study found. Horowitz noted that Americans tended to view Obama -- as well as other questions involving race -- through the lens of their own race or ideological bent. For instance, white Republicans were the most likely to say Obama had made race relations worse, with almost two-thirds expressing that view.

"Whites and white Republicans were far more likely to say there's far too much focus on race and racial issues, and having a black president forces you to pay attention to race," she said. "Obama hasn't been shy about talking about race, or weighing in on the Trayvon Martin shooting."

Blacks and whites aren't only a world apart in how they view race, the survey noted. They also tend to live in different economic worlds, one that hasn't necessarily improved for black Americans over the past five decades.

The income gap between blacks and white has grown wider since 1967, Pew noted. White household annual income now exceeds that of black households by $28,000. That gap was $20,000 in 1967, adjusted for inflation. The wealth gap has also widened, with households headed by whites now having a net worth about 13 times higher than black households. In 1983, white household wealth stood at 8 times that of black wealth, Pew noted.

No surprise, then, that blacks are the least likely to say they're satisfied with their personal financial situation. Only 22 percent said they were content with their personal finances, compared with 32 percent of whites and 31 percent of Hispanics. Blacks were more likely than whites to say they'd experience financial hardship in the past year.

"The events of the last few years have put this back in the national conversation," Horowitz said. "You see it in political campaigns, you see it everywhere. To the extent that people continue to have very different perspectives on where the country is and how blacks are treated, this will continue to be something people discuss."

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