America 2022 in charts: An economic opportunity snapshot

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COVID-19. The vaccine. The Delta variant. And now the Omicron variant. The return from remote work (or not). The return from remote schooling (or not). The Great Resignation. The year 2021 has been unlike any other, challenging the resilience of American workers and their families in extraordinary ways.

What might 2022 bring?

To find out, we surveyed a cross section of 5,000 Americans in the fall of 2021. Our goal: to take a pulse check on the current and future state of economic opportunity in the United States and to learn more about the challenges its workers face.

Below we highlight five key insights from the survey. We hope they help spur meaningful reflection and conversation among public-, private-, and social-sector leaders about the state of sustainable, inclusive growth in America—and the path ahead for making that growth a reality for everyone.

Americans are marginally more optimistic about their access to economic opportunity than they were in March. But the slight uptick masks a broader ambivalence.

Almost half of Americans report being on the financial brink.
Americans report access to affordable healthcare as the greatest barrier to well-being.
Unemployed Americans cite limited job availability and a lack of experience, skills, or education as the greatest barriers to employment.
Americans report physical health and mental health as the top causes of unemployment.

Looking ahead

As we found in the inaugural American Opportunity Survey, in March, this new survey reminds us of the substantial—and stubbornly persistent—barriers preventing many Americans from having a more equitable, prosperous future. In particular, the lack of access to healthcare, mental-health care, and (for parents and caregivers) to childcare represent thorny challenges that leaders in all sectors may wish to prioritize.

At the same time, the pulse-check nature of the survey points to intriguing, real-time developments for workers as America moves forward into 2022. Here are some of the possibilities we’ll be watching most closely:

  • Will the divergence we observed between respondents’ positive-trending views of the near term, and their more negative-trending views of the longer term, continue?
  • Will inflation continue into 2022? If so, what effect might it have on the perceived and real incomes of American workers?
  • What effect will the continued normalization of US fiscal policy (including the end of stimulus payments) have on workers’ perception of their economic opportunity and well-being?
  • Will the labor market return to something approximating a historical normal, or will the current—and unprecedented—mismatch between the supply of and demand for labor continue?
  • What efforts can the private, public, and social sectors undertake to help provide the training and skills that workers say they need to find better jobs?
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