The Two Biggest Challenges People Expect to Encounter

We polled the nation in October 2020, December 2020, and March 2021 to illuminate how US communities have experienced COVID-19. We wanted to understand: 

  • What have been the biggest challenges during the pandemic?
  • What has caused people to seek help, and who still needs help? 
  • What will be the biggest challenges in the future?
  • Who are people turning to for help? 
  • What stopped people from getting help?

Read this page to learn what US residents said they believe will be their biggest challenges in the future, or explore more poll results:
Biggest Challenges | Challenges that Caused People to Seek Help | Future Challenges | Barriers to Help | Where People Received Help

Future areas of major need

We asked respondents to select the two issues that they thought would be their biggest challenges in the next two years. This question highlights how people are thinking about the future, and what challenges they feel lie ahead. 

Thinking about the next two years. which of the following do you think will be the biggest challenges for you or your household? Please select the TWO options that best apply.

Key Findings

  • Even in October, two in three people (63.6%) anticipated facing one or more of the listed challenges in the next two years. In December, that number rose even further to 68.3%. In March, the number of people who anticipated facing one or more of the listed challenges feel somewhat, but only to the level it was originally in October (63.6%).
  • Emotional or mental health was the most cited expected future challenge in October (24.3%), December (27.3%), and March (25%).
  • Respondents answered that they anticipated both employment and the ability to pay for food and other basic expenses would continue to be a challenge in the future, and at higher rates in December as compared to October and March. 
  • The challenges that respondents chose more frequently in March compared to December were the ability to get medicines or medical treatment (+0.4%), the ability to pay for medicines or medical treatment (+1.1%), and childcare (+0.6%).
  • Although the number of responses regarding help in the future as relating to employment situation increased marginally from October to December, the number of people who said they expected to face other challenges related to economic security decreased overall from December to March, including housing situation, the ability to pay for basic expenses, caretaking responsibility, and technology.

The future major challenges expected by respondents in both October and December of 2020 closely match the challenges that most impacted them in previous months. By comparing these responses, we can see that these are issues households face commonly and are not being addressed in a way which leads respondents to believe these problems will disappear, even post pandemic. Respondents signaled that economic challenges, such as housing, the ability to pay for basic expenses, and employment were among the most common challenges they will be worried about two years from now, with the proportion of respondents who chose these options increasing from October to December 2020. However, by March 2021, there was a slight decrease in the proportions of respondents who said they believed those would be major challenges for them in the future. 

Each of these economic and social challenges likely contributes to the high rate of respondents who said they expect emotional or mental health will be one of their biggest challenges in the next two years. Furthermore, respondents were aware of future policy changes and a shifting potential for assistance in December 2020 as compared to October 2020, as by the time December polls were released, respondents knew there would be a shift in federal power with the transition to a new president. This may account for shifting attitudes related to the challenges respondents said they believe would be prevalent two years from now, specifically with regards to the ability to get and pay for medicines and nominal increase in the concern around future employment situation.   

Polling was completed with support of the Walmart Foundation for our project, Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color.