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4 out of 5 Americans face poverty in their lifetimes, says survey (+video)

Survey: 4 out of 5 Americans will live in or near poverty at least one year of their adult lives, and twice as many whites as blacks are already in poverty. 'Poverty is no longer an issue of "them," it's an issue of "us," ' says the researcher who calculated the numbers.

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— Race disparities in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s. While residential segregation remains high, a typical black person now lives in a non-majority black neighborhood for the first time. Previous studies have shown that wealth is a greater predictor of standardized test scores than race; the test-score gap between rich and low-income students is now nearly double the gap between blacks and whites.

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Going back to the 1980s, never have whites been so pessimistic about their futures, according to the General Social Survey, a biannual survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Just 45 percent say their family will have a good chance of improving their economic position based on the way things are in America.

The divide is especially evident among those whites who self-identify as working class. Forty-nine percent say they think their children will do better than them, compared with 67 percent of nonwhites who consider themselves working class, even though the economic plight of minorities tends to be worse.

Although they are a shrinking group, working-class whites — defined as those lacking a college degree — remain the biggest demographic bloc of the working-age population. In 2012, Election Day exit polls conducted for the AP and the television networks showed working-class whites made up 36 percent of the electorate, even with a notable drop in white voter turnout.

Last November, Obama won the votes of just 36 percent of those non-college whites, the worst performance of any Democratic nominee among that group since Republican Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide victory over Walter Mondale.

Some Democratic analysts have urged renewed efforts to bring working-class whites into the political fold, calling them a potential "decisive swing voter group" if minority and youth turnout level off in future elections. "In 2016 GOP messaging will be far more focused on expressing concern for 'the middle class' and 'average Americans,'" Andrew Levison and Ruy Teixeira wrote recently in The New Republic.

"They don't trust big government, but it doesn't mean they want no government," says Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who agrees that working-class whites will remain an important electoral group. His research found that many of them would support anti-poverty programs if focused broadly on job training and infrastructure investment. This past week, Obama pledged anew to help manufacturers bring jobs back to America and to create jobs in the energy sectors of wind, solar and natural gas.

"They feel that politicians are giving attention to other people and not them," Goeas said.

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