NEW YORK – Karen Glidden’s loneliness has become unbearable during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 72-year-old widow, who suffers from vision loss and diabetes and lives away from any relatives, barely left her home in Champ, Michigan last year for fear of contracting the virus. Finally vaccinated, she was hoping to pass out when her beloved service dog died last month.
It doesn’t help that her circle of trusted friends is reduced to a neighbor whom she counts on to help her shop, go to the doctor, and hang out.
“I feel like I’m in prison most of the time and sometimes I have to go out,” said Glidden, whose adult children live in California and Hawaii, where they were born and raised.
She is not alone in her sense of social isolation.
According to a new survey by The Impact Genome, millions of Americans are struggling for a lifetime with few people they can rely on for personal and professional help, a disconnect that stems from the social, emotional and economic fallout of the pandemic poses a significant obstacle to overcome. Project and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
18% of American adults surveyed, or nearly 46 million people, say they have just one person or no one they can rely on for help with their personal lives, such as emergency child care needs, Support sick on airport rides or falls. And 28% say they have just one person or no one they can turn to on a resume, connect with employers, or help navigate workplace challenges.
The separation between black and Hispanic Americans is more acute. Thirty-eight percent of black adults and 35% of Hispanic adults said they had only one or no trusted person to help them navigate their work lives, compared to 26% of white adults. In their personal lives, 30% of Hispanic adults and 25% of black adults said they had one or no people to trust, while 14% of white adults said the same.
Researchers have long debated the idea that America suffered from a decline in social capital, or the value derived from personal relationships and civic engagement.
The General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted by the NORC since 1972, suggests that Americans feel they can trust declined in the early 2000s compared to two decades earlier, although this segregation There is little agreement about the extent of or the reason for it. The rise of social media has added another layer of debate, as experts explore whether it broadens the network or lures people into setting aside echo chambers.
The Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll seeks to measure how much social capital Americans can count on as they try to pick up the fragments of life fragmented by the pandemic. The findings suggest that for many Americans, the pandemic has taken away the social capital that was going to them.
Americans were more likely to report a decline than an increase in the number of people they could count on over the past year. Just 6% of Americans said their network of trusted people grew, while 16% reported that it had shrunk. While the majority of Americans said they remained the most people they could trust, nearly 3 in 10 said they sought less support from family and friends because of COVID-19.
Community bonds have proven critical to recovery from disasters such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the AP-NORC center.
But the nature of the pandemic made it difficult or impossible to maintain those bonds. Schools, community centres, churches, synagogues and mosques closed. People could not ask neighbors or grandparents for help with child care or other needs for fear of spreading the virus.
According to the new survey, nearly half of Americans are engaged in civic groups such as religious institutions, schools, or community service groups. And 42% of all adults said they have become less involved with civic groups during the pandemic, while only 21% said they have become more engaged.
“The key difference compared to the way social capital can be leveraged in other disasters is that this is a disaster where your civic duty was to be yourself,” Benz said.
Pew Research Center surveys suggested that transfers increased during the pandemic. While some moved closer to family, more moved because of job loss or other financial stresses.
Warlin Rosso, 29, has moved frequently in pursuit of financial stability, often at the expense of his social ties.
He left behind his entire family, including 14 siblings, when he immigrated to America from the Dominican Republic five years ago. He worked for three years in a warehouse in Chicago, sharing an apartment with a girlfriend. But when that relationship broke down, he couldn’t afford to go out on his own. In December 2019, he relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, where a childhood friend let him in.
That friend, Rosso said, is the only person in Jackson he can count on for help. As the pandemic closed, Rosso was struggling in a city where the Hispanic community is small.
Through social media, he found a job with a man from Nicaragua who had a construction business. Later, he got a training program which landed him a job as a hospital aide.
Their coworkers are friendly, but they feel isolated. Sometimes, he said, patients explicitly ask a non-Latino worker for help. He hopes to eventually find a similar job in Chicago, where he has friends.
“It’s not always welcoming to Hispanics here,” Rosso said. “Here, I am alone.”
The AP-NORC survey of 2,314 adults was conducted from March 25 to April 15 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sample error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.