How do you perceive economic mobility?

by Sanchay Jain   •  
As you know, one of OpportunityNation’s goals is to enhance economic mobility in America.  As we work towards this mission, we feel it’s important to listen to the American people themselves and gauge how they perceive economic mobility in general, as well as their own prospects for career advancement and the possibility of eventually reaching their American Dream.

In 2009, the Economic Mobility Project launched a national poll that works to identify how most Americans view their prospects for economic mobility. What’s more, results of the poll might be considered surprising.  In the midst of the Great Recession, people seemed optimistic regarding their possibility to succeed financially and to get ahead in life. 79% of the people surveyed indicated that they believed it possible to succeed given the economic climate of the time. Perhaps most interestingly, when asked what factors were essential to economic mobility, the vast majority of the people surveyed listed “hard work” and “ambition” as answers.

Now, with the Great Recession technically over, the Economic Mobility Project recently presented a follow up poll that took place in 2011. The questions in this year’s poll differ slightly from the one in 2009, but the circumstances are vastly different and the answers are still quite insightful.

  • In the past two years, Americans feel more pessimistic about their financial condition, with only 32% of the people surveyed indicating that their financial situation is either “excellent” or “good.”
  • Amidst this pessimism shines a silver lining of confidence regarding the future. 68% of the people polled believe that they are in control of their economic situation, and 61% believe that they earn enough or will earn enough to live the kind of life they want.
  • The most telling statistic may be the fact that 68% believe that they will reach the American Dream—or have already reached it.

A final interesting section of this year’s poll revolves around the issue of what the government should do in order to provide opportunity for all, and what it does currently.  83% of those polled believe that government should provide opportunities to either improve economic situations, prevent them from falling behind or a combination of both. However, with 37% of the people believing that the government is pursuing the wrong policies and 43% of the people believing that the government is pursing the right policies incorrectly, there is discontent in terms of the current strategies in place. 

Of course, these poll results only provide us with a glance of the overall picture, but it is important to analyze the data and more importantly, move beyond the data itself. Ultimately, OpportunityNation, along with its coalition partners, as part of its objective of improving opportunity in America, is looking to bring these numbers into the conversation as we try to identify the best path forward to help everyone reach the American Dream.  In fact, it’s part of the reason why we will be unveiling an Opportunity Index at our summit in November – data that will help us see our progress on economic opportunity in various American communities.  Stay tuned to learn more!


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