How social identities are affecting post-Covid economic prospects

07 June 2021 3 min. read
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A “sobering” reality: last year’s pandemic exposed all manner of institutional and social discrimination across the US economy. McKinsey & Company and Ipsos have laid out the extent of the problem in a new survey.

A sense of economic optimism is creeping in to the US – spurred on by successful vaccination drives, dipping infection rates, and targeted recovery initiatives from the Biden administration. An important note, though: not all Americans are in the same boat.

McKinsey & Company worked with market research firm Ipsos to survey over 25,000 US consumers in the spring of 2021 – for a clearer idea of public sentiment amid an upward economic climb. Women, people of color, low-income individuals, and LGBT people are the least optimistic – largely because these groups have had a tougher year than many.

Social factors play a role in employment stability

Per the researchers, a higher share of these groups – on average – were concerned about their employment stability through last year, and continue to face the same uncertainty. Worryingly, many attribute this imbalance to their identity.

“Black respondents in our survey, for example, were 4.5 times more likely than white respondents to say that their race was a barrier to future job prospects and to fair reward and recognition for their work,” noted McKinsey partner and report co-author Jorge Amar.

“Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino respondents, meanwhile, were 3.4 and 2.8 times, respectively, more likely than white respondents to say the same.”

Racial, gender and sexual identity affects career prospects

“Women were more than twice as likely as men to say that their gender negatively affected their access to opportunity, while men were twice as likely as women to say that their gender positively affected their access to opportunity.”

Impact on sentiment

These factors have a clear bearing on sentiment. The researchers used opinions on job opportunities, work recognition, and quality of life as pillar of economic optimism for the future – and around 42% of Americans appear to be optimistic by that reasoning. That said, the groups mentioned above had a relatively damp outlook across all metrics – particularly their overall quality of life.

McKinsey partner and report co-author Diana Ellsworth explained: “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.”

Social factors play a role in economic optimism

“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.”

There is some optimism among minorities. First and second generation immigrants reported a high level of economic opportunity, while the experts point out a broad degree of optimism among Black and Hispanic communities – despite several barriers to progress – partly owing to the domestic and global spotlight on discrimination and injustice last year.

“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,” concluded James Manyika, chairman and director at McKinsey Global Institute.