Countless Americans are suffering from feelings of loneliness and isolation, a growing trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
According to an Impact Genome/AP-NORC Poll, millions of Americans lack key social bonds in their personal and workplace lives, face barriers to accessing important services and institutions or aren’t meaningfully engaged in their community.
COVID-19 has more often led to a decrease rather than an increase in social capital on these measures, says the study.
About 46 million adults (18 percent) have only one person or no one to count on for help, emotional support or aid when, for instance, when their child is sick.
About 49 million (20 percent) have no one in their professional network who can help draft a resume, connect with a potential employer or provide advice on workplace challenges.
These bonds — called social capital — can boost economic recovery and promote social mobility, particularly after major shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study.
“Our survey found that the pandemic has led to a decrease in social capital for many. This decrease means that millions of adults could miss out on support to find jobs, overcome barriers accessing important services and institutions, and benefit from meaningful relationships within their community,” said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
“The COVID-19 quarantine measures were certainly necessary for public health, but also left 1 in 6 Americans with even smaller trusted personal networks than before the pandemic.”
Differences in the size of trusted networks are “especially acute by income, race and ethnicity, and education: white, college-educated, and wealthier adults are more likely to have more people they can rely on for personal support,” said study authors.
On the professional front, 20 percent, or 49 million Americans, have no contact in their trusted network who can help draft a resume, connect with a potential employer or provide advice with workplace challenges, according to results from the survey.
White adults and more educated Americans again fared better in this category with having larger trusted professional networks.
About a third (30 percent) of Americans have used government services like unemployment, cash assistance, food assistance or Social Security in the past year.
Most Americans were able to access the essential services they needed, but Black Americans were more likely than whites (25 percent versus 10 percent) to face barriers, notes the study.
The most common barrier to access among all Americans is knowledge: 62 percent cite not knowing if they were eligible for services or not knowing where to go for help.
For educational institutions and government benefits, about a quarter of those seeking services say they could not get what they needed, according to the study.
“This research gives us precision data to design interventions that drive economic mobility and financial stability for those populations with low or no social capital,” says Jason Saul, CEO of Impact Genome Project®.
“Using these insights, we will work with a coalition of leading corporate philanthropies and other funders to invest in solutions that close the gap.”