An independent survey on racial attitudes in the United States shows a growing number of African Americans say they are worse off now than they were five years ago, and that they don't expect their lives to improve in the future.  The whites, the survey says, see things differently.   VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, shows that only one in five African Americans asked said life in the United States is better for them than it was five years ago, and only 44 percent of African Americans said they expect their prospects to brighten in the future.  The Pew Center says this means that blacks are more pessimistic about progress now than at any time since 1983. 

Most white Americans have a different perspective.  Whites are nearly twice as likely as blacks to see blacks gaining ground over the past five years, and 56 percent of whites say life will get better for blacks in this country. 

Telephone interviews for the Pew Research Center survey were conducted among a nationally representative sample of three thousand, 86 adults from September 5 to October 6.  Of the total, 1007 interviews were conducted with blacks, and 388 with Hispanics.

The Executive Vice President of the center, Paul Taylor, says since the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s and 1970s, African Americans as a whole have done better economically. But, he says there have been increasing prosperity gaps within the black community.

"Overall the black community in absolute inflation-adjusted dollars has done better over the last 40 or so years; there's been a slow but steady progress," he noted.  "But when you look inside the community, you see an increasing divergence. More blacks now than before are in the middle class or above, taking advantage of the opportunities opened up by the civil rights era, if you will.  But a very significant number are still in poverty."

Taylor said the divergence in economic level within the black community is accompanied by a growing gap in values between poor and middle-class African Americans.

"We asked blacks, 'do you think the values of middle-class and poor blacks have gotten more alike or more different in the past decade.'  By two to one blacks say the values have gotten more different," he added.  "At the same time, a majority of blacks say the values of blacks and whites have become more similar over the past decade."

Most blacks and whites agree that the values held by blacks and whites have become more alike over the years.  Large majorities of both blacks and whites say that rap and hip-hop music are a bad influence on society.  About eight in 10 members of each racial group express a favorable view of the other group.

The survey also rated prominent black Americans according to how favorably they are viewed by members of the black community.  Talk show host Oprah Winfrey came out on top with 87 percent saying she is a good influence, closely followed by entertainer and activist Bill Cosby, with 85 percent. 

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama also scored high among blacks, with 76 percent saying he is a good influence.