The inaugural McKinsey American Opportunity Survey spotlights Americans’ views on economic opportunity, the obstacles they face, and the path ahead to create a more inclusive economy.
As parts of the United States begin the long path to recovery from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we set out to understand what Americans think about their current economic standing, their views on economic opportunity, and the barriers they see standing between themselves and a more inclusive and prosperous future.
So we asked them directly.
Together with the market-research and opinion-polling firm Ipsos, we surveyed 25,000 Americans in the spring of 2021 in an effort to understand their perceptions of the current and future state of the US economy, to discern firsthand their hopes for the future, and to learn about the challenges they face. We also wanted to establish a baseline of data to better understand how outcomes and perceptions are affected by people’s access to resources, as well as by factors such as their identity, education, and level of caregiving responsibility. The breadth and depth of our sample allowed us to draw timely insights across demographic categories and geographic cuts (see sidebar “About the survey”). While the results of our inaugural survey reflect just one moment in time—a period during which the course of the COVID-19 virus and economic conditions were rapidly evolving—they serve as a useful baseline view into the economic experiences of a broad swath of Americans.
What we learned was sobering. Among the findings: Americans report that their financial situations have deteriorated over the past year, and at the time of our survey only half of all respondents reported being able to cover their living expenses for more than two months in the event of job loss. Our survey results also indicated that the pandemic has harmed the economic well-being of many groups, exacerbating inequalities that existed before the crisis. Americans reported facing numerous barriers to economic opportunity and inclusion—among them, inadequate access to health insurance and physical and mental healthcare, as well as to affordable childcare. Moreover, many respondents said that they feel their very identity limits their access to jobs and to fair recognition and reward for their work.
Yet amid the challenges, our survey also revealed optimism. First- and second-generation immigrant respondents were among the most optimistic respondents about economic opportunity. Black and Hispanic/Latino respondents were also among the most optimistic respondents, despite being more likely to report barriers to opportunity.
In this article, we highlight these and other key findings—ten insights in all—that taken together represent a snapshot of how Americans view economic opportunity in the spring of 2021. We hope that these findings contribute to an ongoing conversation about economic opportunity and inclusion among public-, private-, and social-sector leaders. As part of that effort, this article introduces the inaugural McKinsey Economic Opportunity Index, which we will update on an ongoing basis to provide a more robust view of economic opportunity and inclusion trends as they evolve.
Insight #1 Americans’ current overall outlook is not optimistic
Given the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people’s health and economic well-being, it’s likely unsurprising that many Americans would be skeptical of the current state of economic opportunity. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they believe that most Americans have opportunities to find good jobs; one-third said that they believe that most people are recognized and rewarded fairly for their work; and 32 percent said that the pay that most Americans receive for their work allows them a good quality of life. Unsurprisingly, lower-income respondents reported even less optimism—only 36 percent of those making less than $25,000 a year agreed that most Americans have opportunities to find good jobs, compared with 56 percent of those making $150,000 or more a year.
Women in our survey reported greater pessimism about economic opportunity, with only 26 percent of female respondents reporting that the pay that most people receive allows for a good quality of life. Among Black women, just 32 percent said that they believe that most Americans have opportunities to find good jobs, compared with 38 percent of white women and 42 percent of respondents as a whole.
Such views may reflect the disproportionate array of challenges that women reported in our survey as compared with men—among them, income loss, unequal caregiving responsibilities, and experiences of discrimination.
Read the full survey here.