Intervening to Shape a Better Future than Americans Imagine

Associations that want to lead in shaping the future can glean great insights from a 2019 Pew Research survey asking Americans what they imagine their 2050 future will be.

While optimists have a slight edge in the overall findings, survey respondents project many of today’s fears and concerns onto their expected future. This dissatisfaction points to opportunities where associations can lead by offering pathways to a preferred future. To do so, they will have to acknowledge and traverse partisan divides inherent in these public priorities. Pew found two thirds of all adults predict that the country will be more politically divided than it is now.

Pew confirms Americans have little trust that government will hold the answers to future challenges with about half the respondents saying they expect government’s impact will be negative. They have greater confidence in science, technology and education to offer effective solutions. Associations representing these sectors can build on that advantage in public trust. But there’s work ahead as only one third prioritized increased spending on scientific research, and 77 percent worry about the quality of public schools.

Healthcare associations may take note that two thirds of the respondents identified high quality, affordable healthcare as an important investment in the quality of life for future generations. Associations in engineering/architecture and construction may have more work to do as only one third prioritized increased spending for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Associations whose core function is professional development and continuing education should note that only 14 percent projected the average US worker will have more job security in 2050. This anxiety extends to people who attended or graduated college. Two thirds doubt that the economy will generate many new, better paying jobs should robots and computers mostly replace human labor. However, most respondents did not believe their work will be taken over by robots or computers. Associations must help inform and prepare members for AI, automation, and human-machine cooperation.

The Pew survey confirmed many people anticipate people will work into their 70s because they will be less prepared for retirement. Associations already anticipate members will have longer careers and want to understand how to keep long-time members active. This might require paying more attention to the concerns of an aging population, as a majority anticipate aging will be detrimental to the country’s future.

ASAE ForesightWorks identified American inequality as a driver of change ripe with possibilities for many associations to respond. The Pew survey found 73 percent expect the gap between the rich and the poor to grow, and about four in ten respondents project the average family’s standard of living will get worse.

This Pew survey is a rich data resource for associations that want to understand what Americans believe will happen over the next 30 years. What actually does happen could be quite different--particularly if associations rally their members and creative resources to shape a positive outlook on America’s future.