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In U.S., More Nonwhites Than Whites Say Jobs the Top Issue

Whites and nonwhites differ in perceptions of most important problems

by Joy Wilke

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One in four Americans name the economy as the most important problem facing the country today, followed by unemployment and jobs at 19%, and dissatisfaction with government at 17%. Nonwhites (25%) are much more likely than whites (16%) to say unemployment is the most important problem; this issue ranks behind dissatisfaction with government among whites. The economy ranks first for both groups.

Most Important Problems in the U.S., August 2013

Nonwhites are also slightly more likely than whites to mention the economy in general as the most important problem facing the country. In addition to dissatisfaction with government, whites are somewhat more likely than nonwhites to mention healthcare, the federal budget deficit, and ethical and moral decline as the nation's top problem.

Nonwhites Still More Likely to Mention Jobs as Top Problem

These data come from the annual Work and Education survey, conducted each August. In this year's survey, conducted Aug. 7-11, the nonwhite-white gap in mentions of unemployment or jobs as the most important problem (25% vs. 16%) is the largest seen between these racial groups in the August Work and Education polls since 2010. Concern about unemployment among whites and nonwhites moved generally moved in tandem between 2001 and 2009. Gallup found an 11-percentage-point gap in 2010, when nonwhites (36%) were more likely than whites (25%) to mention unemployment. The trends moved in tandem once again in 2011 and 2012, before the nine-point gap emerged this year.

Most Important Problem in the U.S. Over Time: Unemployment/Jobs

Whites Remain More Concerned About the Federal Budget Deficit

There is a five-point gap between the percentage of whites and nonwhites who mention the federal budget deficit as the most important problem, down from a 10-point gap in August 2012. This smaller gap is due mostly to fewer whites mentioning the deficit in 2013 (8%) than in 2012 (20%). Meanwhile, 3% of nonwhite Americans view the deficit as the most important problem, down from 10% in 2012, and back within the range Gallup has typically found for this group.

Trend: Most Important Problem in U.S. Over Time: the Federal Budget Deficit

Nonwhites' Concern About Economy Plateaus, Whites' Continues to Fall

Overall, 53% of Americans mention some economic issue as the most important problem. This remains among the lower levels Gallup has seen over the past few years.

Mentions of economic issues among white and nonwhite Americans moved almost entirely in sync each August of the recent recession and its aftermath, with at least three-quarters of both groups reporting that some aspect of the economy was the most important problem facing the nation in 2011. Economic concerns dropped to 65% and 62% among whites and nonwhites, respectively, in 2012.

Gallup's most recent data show that whites' broad concern about the economy has dropped another 14 percentage points since this time last year. Meanwhile, a little-changed 60% of nonwhites list some aspect of the economy as the most important problem.

Trend: Most Important Problem Over Time: All Economic Mentions


Gallup has previously pointed out differences in demographic groups' perceptions of the most important problem facing the U.S., and minority groups' higher levels of concern about unemployment and the economy. Gallup's most recent data reinforce these findings, suggesting that while white and nonwhite Americans' priorities have at times been in sync, there are stark differences this year in these racial groups' perceptions of the economy's health.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' July unemployment report indicates that the unemployment rate is six points higher among blacks than among whites. Further, the greater percentage of nonwhites vs. whites who mention the economy and unemployment as the most important problem likely reflects the differing realities of these two groups. These data indicate that nonwhite Americans are not feeling the recovery at the same level as white Americans.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted August 7-11, 2013, with a random sample of 2,059 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 1,619 whites, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 385 nonwhites, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit


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