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Published: Monday, 1/18/2010

Hopeful trend

IT WASN'T difficult for African-Americans to invent the blues. After all, they had a lot of material to draw from in everyday life.

Because of the nation's tragic racial history, most blacks have felt out of step with its good times. That can happen when you're on the receiving end of disrespect and discrimination as a matter of law and custom.

One would expect that the recession would give rise to pessimism among African-Americans about their prospects, but the opposite appears to be happening.

In a Pew Research Center poll conducted last fall, 39 percent of blacks said things were better for them than they were five years ago. In 2007, only 20 percent of the respondents said their lives had gotten better in five years.

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed this time predicted life would get better in the future, while only 44 percent held that opinion in 2007.

It's too simplistic to say that the "halo effect" that accompanied Barack Obama's election as the nation's first African-American president is solely responsible, but that likely has something to do with it. Future polls will be able to shine more light on the question.

On this day's commemoration of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., African-Americans are still disproportionately affected by the downturn in the economy, as the 60 percent of those who weren't optimistic remind us.

While the nation as a whole is struggling with a 10 percent unemployment rate, for blacks it's 15.6 percent and for blacks between the ages of 16 and 19, it's 49.4 percent. That's a recipe for disaster.

Still, the trend on attitudes held by African-Americans is encouraging. Plenty of challenges remain in ensuring equal opportunity across all segments of society.

But there's no reason to keep singing the blues when more Americans are feeling upbeat about how far they've come.

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