The economy stinks, but I'm doing OK, say working class whites

The 'white working class' explained
The 'white working class' explained

Social Security is running out of money. America gives too much aid to other countries. Nothing is made in the U.S.A. anymore.

Those are some of the reasons why working class whites feel the economy is headed in the wrong direction. Some 53% of these folks said they are very dissatisfied with the country's economic situation, well above the share among whites with college degrees or working class blacks and Hispanics. Another 25% said they are somewhat dissatisfied, according to a new CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

What's more, they think their children will suffer as a result. Half feel their kids' standard of living will be worse when they hit the same age.

This gloomy view, however, doesn't extend to their own financial circumstances.

Nearly two-thirds of working class whites say they are satisfied with their own personal financial situation. More than three-quarters are optimistic about how things are going in their own lives. A similar share of those who are working feel their jobs are secure.

Take Pete McGuire of Mansfield Center, Connecticut. McGuire, who runs a landscaping company with his wife, was frustrated recently when he couldn't find work boots made in the United States at Cabela's, an outdoor recreation retailer.

dissatisfied national economy

"We're not making anything," McGuire said, noting that the few American products he does find are often more expensive. "I'd be willing to pay a little more to buy something made in the U.S.A. to keep somebody working here."

The 61-year-old ticked off why he thinks the nation is in trouble: The national debt is growing. The federal government is doing more to help other countries than struggling Americans. Veterans are being ignored.

Related: Working class whites blame Washington, but still want more government help

His four daughters will have to deal with all of this. And most of them "are making ends meet by the skin of their teeth." Two are stay-at-home moms and one is a teacher's assistant in an elementary school. The one who is doing the best financially became an accountant after graduating from the University of Connecticut.

As for his own financial security? "We're comfortable. We are paying our bills," said McGuire, who recently applied for disability because of back problems that have forced him to cut back at the landscaping firm.

pete taylor white working class
Pete McGuire thinks the nation is in trouble.

McGuire feels he was able to build a more secure life because the economy was better during most of his working years. After he graduated high school, he was always employed -- in textile factories, for the state, in a construction company and finally at his own small business, often holding second jobs on the side pumping gas or mowing lawns. His wife, who has a bachelor's degree, works for the city of Norwich, providing job coaching for mentally handicapped kids. He has a small pension and retiree health care, thanks to his tenure with the state Department of Transportation.

Nowadays, he feels, it's harder for blue-collar workers to make a decent living.

"When was the last time a factory worker got a pay raise of more than a dime or a quarter?" he said.

Working class whites were less likely to get a boost in pay than their college educated peers. The poll found some 42% of working age people in this group said they or someone in their household had received a raise in the last year, compared to 54% of whites with college diplomas.

It's not surprising that many working class whites have a negative view of the nation's economic direction, said Gary Burtless, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. Americans are often more dour if their political party is not in power. And since many working class whites lean Republican, they feel the Obama administration has made things worse. (Some 53% of working class white Americans CNN/KFF surveyed said they were Republicans or leaned that way, while 33% said they were Democrats or Democratic-leaners and 11% independents.)

Related: The anatomy of a white working class Trump voter

Plus, Republican nominee Donald Trump and his onetime rivals spent the past year decrying how troubled the nation is, he said.

"People are more likely to the take the party line about the state of the economy than their own private economic circumstances," Burtless said. "If we had a President McCain or a President Romney, they'd say the economy isn't so bad."

personal finances

Los Angeles resident David Gibson typifies this view.

"Everything Obama and his administration does is wrong," said Gibson, 82, who just retired as the owner of a real estate escrow business. "I'm not sure Obama knows what he's doing and he doesn't listen to people."

The president's actions haven't directly hurt Gibson's finances, however. He worked well beyond the typical retirement age because he liked it and now plans to live off savings and investments. His daughter and grown grandson are also employed and doing fine.

But among his circle of friends, there's a lot of concern over the economy, national security and America's standing in the world.

Related: The economy needs a Cheerleader-in-Chief

"It's a feeling that everyone is on pins and needles," he said, noting that the economy is only growing at a 1% rate and many people have dropped out of the labor market because they can't find jobs. "You don't know what's going to happen. We're a ship without a captain right now."

nicole king white working class
Nicole King is comfortable financially, but worried about the economy.

Others, like Nicole King, feel the nation's problems have been building for a while and blames both parties for not coming together to address the issues.

King, who watches both CNN and Fox and listens to NPR to get a variety of views, said she is concerned about the shaky state of Social Security and the mounting national debt. She also fears the next generation is not as hard working, which will further damage the economy.

"All those things together don't paint a very positive picture," said King, 40, who feels her job in a bank's IT department is secure. "The U.S. as a brand is not as strong as it once was."

Related: White Working Class & Worried

The Charlotte, N.C., resident and her husband are on a very strict budget so they can save money for retirement and their children's college education. They buy used cars and gave their older daughter, who is 3, a piggy bank so she will learn the value of money at an early age. And they worry that their daughters will not be as comfortable as they are because the economy is so troubled.

worse standard living

Part of working class whites' frustration with the nation's direction stems from their feeling marginalized in society, said Arlie Hochschild, a professor emerita in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the new book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.

They think the nation views them as uneducated and racist, Hochschild said. Their pro-life views are demonized, while they feel under attack from the rise of secularism. And the tipping point is that their path upwards on the economic ladder is blocked by the decline of the middle class.

Related: The 'forgotten tribe' in West Virginia

Yet, at the same time, they draw happiness from living in their own isolated enclaves with family, neighbors and fellow churchgoers nearby.

"People are more optimistic personally than they are about the country as a whole," Hochschild said.

White, Working Class & Worried is a CNN partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation - an extensive survey of white, working class Americans and voters who form a backbone of the support for Donald Trump. See more tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 and see full coverage at

About the survey: CNN partnered with The Kaiser Family Foundation to conduct an in-depth survey of the white working class in America, their politics, their perceptions of America's changing demographics, the economy, immigration, their personal finances, their faith, among others. This group has become increasingly important to the 2016 presidential race since they have been a key support to Donald Trump's bid for the White House. Here are the full results of the survey.

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