How do we give Americans better access to opportunity?

Two men looking at a sun dial

As I travel the world talking to students and educators, the most urgent questions I hear are variations on the same themes: How do I create a better life for myself and my children? What is the social compact that gets us all there, and who is responsible for creating it? Those are questions fundamental to achieving the American dream—a dream that resonates worldwide.

These critical questions are also at the core of many Americans’ concerns that economic progress is out of reach and that the dream is fleeting now more than ever. These concerns have surfaced more urgently within the context of the Presidential campaign, and have been foundational to candidates’ views on both sides of the aisle.

To understand the dynamics that underlie these concerns, Pearson conducted a poll with Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series, seeking to examine Americans’ views on these issues. The results were revealing: More people than ever believe they don’t have a reasonable shot at creating opportunity in this country. Shockingly, and in contrast to the basic tenets core to the United States, fewer than half of all Americans—just 44%—believe that anyone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed.

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When you start to break this down along demographic lines, faith in the promise of American opportunity becomes even more strained. Fewer than 40% of African Americans believe that someone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed. The research shows that Asian and Hispanic Americans are still hanging on to the American dream, but are only marginally more confident that they have a real shot at success.

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While this data is discouraging, there is hope. The poll results evidenced a shared view in the promise of education and the belief that if people have access to education designed specifically to improve their skills, their views of the opportunity would improve. Almost three-quarters of Americans—72%—believe they would be able to get a better job or a higher paying job with more education or training.

Two-thirds of Americans believe the economy would improve by increasing the number of well-trained workers and people see investment in education as the best way to improve the economy.

It’s clear that people of all backgrounds see education as the gateway to a better life.

While educators, policymakers and employers are key in helping people prepare for the workforce, companies who are focused on education, like Pearson, have an important role to play. Building the tools to lead people to better jobs and a better life is fundamental to Pearson’s mission. We’re especially focused on closing the skills gap to give people more access to jobs and better opportunity. At schools like Texas Southmost College in the Rio Grande Valley, we are providing digital curriculum that prepares graduates for high tech and health care jobs in their local communities. Across the nation, we are working with colleges and universities to move degree programs online, often putting up the capital to get these programs off the ground. And, we are supporting adult learners with the GED and our professional testing services.

There are urgent educational and economic needs across this country. That is never more evident than when people feel opportunity is out of reach, and the American Dream is out of sight. Together we can meet these challenges and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.

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Here are some other highlights from the full poll results, which you can read in full here.

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