Despite the disproportionate toll the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout have had on communities of color, more than 40% of Americans are unconvinced that systemic racism exists in the U.S., according to new survey findings from U.S. News & World Report and The Harris Poll.
Among thousands of people surveyed, nearly a quarter reported they did not believe there is systemic racism in America, while another 17% said they were unsure. At 47%, nearly half of white Americans remained unconvinced, while people of color were much more likely to affirm that systemic racism exists in the country. More than 80% of Black or African American respondents believe it does, as well as more than 70% of Asian or Pacific Islander respondents and nearly 70% of Hispanics.
The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll from Oct. 21 to Oct. 30 among a nationally representative sample of 4,085 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of ±1.91%. Its findings come as the country continues to grapple with racial and ethnic disparities in foundational areas like employment, poverty, housing and health care, and amid a global pandemic that experts believe has hit minority communities harder in large part due to systemic inequities in those same types of areas.
“The stark disparity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprising in response to the murder of George Floyd undeniably exposed the racial inequities in the nation’s economic, health care, and criminal justice systems and institutions, and ignited a clear demand for racial justice,” says Marc Morial, president and CEO of civil rights organization the National Urban League.
Even as a majority of Americans believe systemic racism exists in the country, the U.S. News/Harris Poll survey results reflect differences in opinion among racial and ethnic groups regarding its role in creating disparities and the need for it to be addressed. Among Black or African American respondents, for example, 80% strongly or somewhat agree that systemic racism is responsible for disparities in areas such as health and finances, compared with just 62% of whites. Overall, 66% of respondents strongly or somewhat agree that systemic racism is responsible for such issues.
Half of Black or African American respondents surveyed also reported that they “strongly agree” it’s important for society to address the impacts of discriminatory practices, such as redlining or voter suppression, that disadvantage some Americans. That compares with 36% of whites and 37% of respondents overall.
Varied views also were apparent on survey questions regarding economic and workplace disparities. According to a 2021 report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the median annual wage for Black workers is approximately 30% lower – or about $10,000 less – than the wage for white workers, with occupational disparities in Black representation and pay leading to an annual wage gap of around $220 billion.
Yet while two-thirds of respondents to the U.S. News/Harris Poll survey disagreed strongly or somewhat with the notion that wage gaps are not a problem in the U.S., Black respondents at 43% were more likely to strongly disagree, compared with 32% of whites and the same or similar shares of Asians or Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.
Similarly, while 64% of all adults surveyed disagreed with the statement that “workplace discrimination is not a problem in the U.S.,” 43% of Black respondents strongly disagreed, compared with just 27% of whites, 29% of Hispanics and 34% of Asians or Pacific Islanders.
Meanwhile, only about one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents overall reported they thought companies had put in a “very good effort” over the past two years to advance racial equity through increasing awareness about racial bias and microaggressions, recruiting and retaining minority talent, minimizing pay disparities, or increasing racial diversity in managerial or other leadership roles.
In May, an analysis from corporate data firm Equilar found that just 15% of board seats for organizations included in the Russell 3000 index – which measures the performance of the 3,000 largest publicly held companies by market capitalization in the U.S. – were held by ethnically diverse directors at the end of 2021.
More than half of respondents overall to the U.S. News/Harris Poll survey said they believe business rather than the government was more likely to make a positive impact in their community, even as 53% of people of color viewed the government as more likely to have a positive impact versus 42% of white respondents.
At the same time, both whites and people of color had less trust in government at any level to make meaningful changes in advancing equity than they did in institutions such as small businesses, nonprofits, and educational and health care entities. Among people of color, 73% of respondents trusted small businesses to some degree to advance equity – the highest level of support given to a range of institutions that also included corporations and religious groups – as did 78% of whites.
As to what changes respondents would like to see, groups differed on what issue – if solved immediately – would have an immediate positive impact on their community. While affordable health care was listed among the top three issues by each racial or ethnic group, it was the No. 1 issue for whites and Asian or Pacific Islander respondents. Among both Black and Hispanic respondents, crime and gun violence were listed as No. 1, followed by affordable health care for Black respondents and housing insecurity and affordability among Hispanics.
In additional polling conducted by The Harris Poll after this past Election Day, the economy topped concerns among both white respondents and people of color: 88% of whites and 81% of people of color said they were very or somewhat concerned about the economy and inflation, with 85% of whites and 78% of people of color saying the same about a potential U.S. economic recession. Notably, 81% of whites expressed concern about crime rates in the U.S., compared with 76% of people of color.