• A year after the start of forced lockdowns, most Americans are not optimistic about a quick return to the way things were before the outbreak.
  • Just 9% of the public say businesses, schools, and other public places will open as normal in less than six months, according to a new survey.
  • 34% say this will take between six months and a year, but 57% of Americans say it will be a year or more and 14% expect it will take more than two years.
  • 8-in-10 Americans say it will take 1 to 2 years for the job market to recover.
  • For the most part, expectations about when life will return to the way it was before the pandemic do not vary widely across demographic groups.

A year after COVID-19 forced the first lockdowns, school and business closures and event cancellations across the country, most Americans are not optimistic about a quick return to the way things were before the outbreak. And the public is even less optimistic about when the job situation may return to its pre-pandemic level.

Despite recent increases in the shares of Americans who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 – and who say they plan to get vaccinated – just 9% of the public says it will be less than six months before most businesses, schools, places of worship and other public activities operate about as they did before the outbreak. Roughly a third (34%) say this will take between six months and a year.

a chart showing how long Americans think a return to normality will take
The majority of Americans think it will be a year or more before things return to normal.
Image: Pew Research Center

Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say it will be a year or more before things mostly operate as they did before the pandemic struck the U.S., including 14% who expect it will take more than two years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted March 1-7 among 12,055 adults.

For the most part, expectations about when life will return to the way it was before the pandemic do not vary widely across demographic groups or by partisanship.

Women (59%) are somewhat more likely than men (53%) to believe that it will take more than a year for public activities to return to the level they were before the outbreak.

Nearly two-thirds of Black Americans (64%) say it will be a year or longer, compared with smaller shares of White (56%), Asian (56%) and Hispanic adults (51%).

Upper-income Americans are the most optimistic about when life when will return to normal: 49% predict that schools, businesses and other public activities will fully reopen in a year or sooner. Fewer middle-income (43%) and lower-income Americans (40%) say the same.

a chart showing how long Americans think a return to normality will take by demographic
Expectations do not vary widely across demographic groups.
Image: Pew Research Center

Similar shares of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (57%) and Democrats and Democratic leaners (56%) say it will take more than a year for life to return to normal in the country. But Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe it will be more than two years (17% vs. 10%).

When it comes to the nation’s job situation, Americans are even more pessimistic. About eight-in-ten Americans say they expect it will take one to two years (46%) or more than two years (35%) for the job situation to recover to where it was before the outbreak. Just 19% believe it will recover in less than a year.

About eight-in-ten Americans say they expect it will take one to two years for the job market to recover.
Image: Pew Research Center

There are modest demographic differences in these predictions. For example, those who live in rural areas (40%) are slightly more likely than those who live in suburban (34%) or urban areas (31%) to say the job recovery will take more than two years.

While partisans are largely in agreement that it will take more than a year for employment to reach the level it was at before the pandemic, Republicans are more pessimistic: 44% expect jobs to return in more than two years, compared with about a quarter of Democrats (26%).

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

See this appendix for how income tiers were determined.