New Survey Finds Most African Americans Satisfied With Lives Overall, But Many Have Concerns About Future

    • June 4, 2013

Princeton, N.J.—A new poll released today finds that nearly half (44%) of employed African Americans  are very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their household might be out of work and looking for a job in the next twelve months. In addition, almost half (45%) are not confident that they would have sufficient money or health insurance to pay for a major illness. Also, about one-third (36%) of all African Americans report that, at least a few times a year, they have had specific experiences of racism.

Overall Life Satisfaction

The majority of African Americans (86%) still say they are satisfied with their lives, including almost half (48%) who say they are very satisfied. A similar number report being satisfied with the communities in which they live (82%), including 44% who are very satisfied. The highest levels of satisfaction in the current poll are reported by married people, those with incomes of $75,000 or higher, and those aged 65 or older.

Health and Economic Problems

Some encounter significant problems paying for or accessing health care. Three in ten African Americans (30%) report that in the past twelve months, they or a family member has had a serious problem paying  doctor and hospital bills. About one in four (24%) say they had a serious problem with paying for prescription medicines. About one in six (16%) report a serious problem getting health care that was needed, and one in ten (10%) report a serious problem getting mental health care.

High blood pressure/stroke and diabetes are the top health concerns for African American families. When asked to say in their own words what is the biggest health problem for their family, one in five African Americans cite high blood pressure/stroke (20%) and diabetes (19%). The next two most frequently cited problems, cancer (7%) and heart disease (6%), were mentioned by fewer than one in ten.  

“To make living healthy easier for our diverse society, we need to acknowledge that health starts where we live, work, learn and play. If we’re going to create a national culture of health, we need to focus as much on factors such as education and employment as we do on providing affordable and equal access to high-quality, high-value care,” said RWJF President and CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD.

African Americans are almost evenly divided on the state of their personal finances. Half (50%) say their finances are not so good or poor, while about half (49%) say they are excellent or good. Those who feel their financial situation is not so good or poor differ significantly on a wide range of measures from those who feel their financial situation is excellent or good.  

“We find that the economic situation facing African Americans has an impact across a range of issues in their lives. The half who report that they are doing well financially say that things are better in many different aspects of their lives,” said Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Those who rate their finances as not so good or poor are more likely to be concerned that they or someone in their household will be out of work in the next 12 months (58% vs. 32%). They are also more likely to say they are not confident they could pay for a major illness (60% vs. 28%) in the future and were more likely to report having had a serious problem in the last year paying medical bills (39% vs. 20%) or paying for prescription medicine (32% vs. 17%).  They were less likely to give their communities an A or B rating on many aspects rated, including safety from crime (41% vs. 64%) and parks and sports facilities (48% vs. 72%).

The poll is part of a series developed by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health.

Complete poll results can be found at,, and

NPR is reporting on the findings in a multi-part series, “The View From Black America” beginning today on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Tell Me More.  Stories in the series are at

The research team consists of the following members at each institution:

Harvard School of Public Health: Robert J. Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and executive director of HORP; John M. Benson, research scientist and managing director of HORP; Kathleen J. Weldon, research and administrative manager; Alecia McGregor, research fellow.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Fred Mann, associate vice president, Communications; Debra Joy Pérez, assistant vice president, Research and Evaluation; Carolyn Miller, senior program officer, Research and Evaluation; and Ari Kramer, communications officer.

NPR: Anne Gudenkauf, senior supervising editor, Science Desk; Joe Neel, deputy senior supervising editor, Science Desk; Vickie Walton-James, deputy senior supervising editor, National Desk; Matt Thompson, editorial product manager.

Interviews were conducted via telephone (including both landline and cell phone) January 10–February 7, 2013, among a nationally representative sample of 1081 African Americans age 18 and older. The interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for total respondents is +/- 4.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The interviews were conducted by SSRS of Media (PA).

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, sample data are weighted by household size, cell phone/landline use and demographics (sex, age, education, marital status and census region) to reflect the true population. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

Media Contact:
Marge Dwyer | | (617) 432-8416

Ari Kramer | | (609) 627-5937


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For more than 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook

About the Harvard School of Public Health

Harvard School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at HSPH teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s first professional training program in public health. For more information on the School, visit

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