Optimism is plummeting among working-class whites, but it is holding steady for minorities. What does this great divergence in hopefulness mean for the 2012 presidential election?
They dream in water, cotton, and brick. One of them is losing hope.
Not Tierra, who is black, and whose nursing ambitions could be delayed by another brutal electric bill. Not Ambar, a Latina and an aspiring lawyer who just lost the only home she ever knew.
Dave. Who is white, and who thought, finally, he'd made it. Who broke his back for a dream--a pension, a getaway cottage, security--that seems to be wavering in the Lake Erie haze.
He grew up in Detroit, where the upward mobility of the American middle class could be seen every Friday afternoon. Factory workers, driving cars they'd built, crowded I-75, heading north to their cottages. That was the deal that Dave Miller signed up for when he dropped out of Wayne State University and followed his dad into the firefighting ranks. The deal was supposed to include decent wages, health insurance, tuition, retirement, mortgages, and maybe, with overtime pay, a boat and a house on the lake--a physical reminder that hard work still pays like it always did.
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"Here's the ticket! Twenty-five years, a pension, health care, and nine working days a month--that's how they sold it," Dave says. Nobody mentioned going 10 years without a raise; or starting a construction company on the side to make ends meet; or wondering if he shouldn't just sell the little lake cottage that his hard work bought, because he struggles just to make it up there.