Report: 44% of Executives Expect 2021 U.S. Economy Will Improve

About 44 percent of executives expect the overall outlook for the 2021 U.S. economy to improve, according to the 2021 National Business Trends Survey from the Employer Association of America.
economic growth illustration
Almost half of executives expect the overall outlook for the 2021 U.S. economy to improve. // Stock photo

About 44 percent of executives expect the overall outlook for the 2021 U.S. economy to improve, according to the 2021 National Business Trends Survey from the Employer Association of America.

The annual survey shares information on what executives across the country are doing to address the ever-changing business climate. Survey responses also reflect the impact COVID-19 has had on this year’s business trends.

Michigan employers appear slightly more optimistic about future economic conditions than the nation’s. Half of those surveyed in Michigan think the U.S. economy will improve in the next 12 months. Fewer than two of ten organizations expect conditions to decline.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented enormous challenges to Michigan employers,” says Mary E. Corrado, president and CEO of the American Society of Employers in Troy, an affiliate of the Employer Association of America. “It is unclear if this latest surge in COVID-19 cases will derail the sense of optimism seen in this data, but the prospect of effective vaccines should add to the optimism. Michigan employers and ASE members remain focused on keeping their employees safe while managing their organizations and navigating this pandemic.”

When asked if the overall U.S. economy will improve in the next 12 months, stay the same, or decline, the largest segment of respondents across the country – 44 percent – think it will improve, up from 12 percent last year. This year, 33 percent think it will stay the same, compared to last year’s 52 percent, and 24 percent will think it will decline, compared to 36 percent last year.

“COVID certainly has had a significant impact and perhaps many are feeling that the economy can only get better moving forward into 2021,” says Thoran Towler, chair of the board for Employer Associations of America. “In fact, fueling that optimism, 57 percent of executives project slight to significant increases in sales and revenue. American businesses are showing their resilience and readiness to tackle today’s challenges and come out stronger than ever before.”

Eleven questions were added to this year’s survey regarding COVID-19’s impact on business; addressing employee safety; staying home and social distancing; working remotely; remote interviews, training, and meetings; hazard pay and bonuses; and candidates unwilling to work in the office or field.

About 52 percent of respondents indicated they are extremely to moderately concerned about COVID-19’s impact on business continuity including supply chains, financial implications, and temporary shutdowns.

To address COVID-19, 85 percent of respondents said they would clean and disinfect work areas on a regular basis this year, and 72 percent said they plan to continue the practice in 2021. About 84 percent are enforcing plans and policies regarding employees who become ill or exhibit signs of COVID-19 while at work in 2020; 70 percent of respondents say they plan to continue this into next year.

About 70 percent this year and 55 percent next year plan to communicate frequently to employees about self-screening protocols; 77 percent this year and 52 percent next year plan to increase signage regarding COVID-19 prevention protocols; and 65 percent and 50 percent this year and next, respectively, say they will enforce plans and policies to accommodate employees who need to remain home due to underlying health issues.

Similar to last year’s survey responses, the top three serious challenges for business executives include talent acquisition, talent retention, and the ability to pay competitive wages. Fourth and fifth were the ability to pay for benefit costs and the cost of regulatory compliance.

Of the respondents, 64 percent plan to award wage or salary increases in 2021, and 29 percent are awarding variable pay bonuses for 2021.

Measures executives plan to implement or continue in 2020 and 2021 to strengthen business results include:

  • Invest in technology (38 percent for 2020 and 47 percent for 2021)
  • Invest in equipment (33 percent for 2020 and 41 percent for 2021)
  • Increase flexible work arrangements (39 percent for 2020 and 2021)
  • Increase recruiting emphasis (20 percent for 2020 and 26 percent for 2021)
  • Use data analytics to improve business strategy (15 percent for 2020 and 21 percent for 2021)

The American Society of Employers is a nonprofit membership organization in Troy that helps its members with HR practices. It is an affiliate of the Employer Associations of America, a national organization that consists of 30 regional employer associations serving 35,000 companies and more than 6 million employees.