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Poll: Millions of people in US struggle through life with few to trust

NEW YORK (AP) — Karen Glidden’s loneliness became unbearable during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 72-year-old widow, who suffers from vision loss and diabetes and lives far from any relatives, barely left her house in Champion, Michigan, this past year, for fear of contracting the virus. Finally vaccinated, she was looking forward to venturing out when her beloved service dog died last month.

It doesn’t help that her circle of trusted friends has dwindled to one neighbor she counts on to help her shop, get to the doctor and hang out.

“I feel like I’m in a prison most of the time and once in a while, I get to go out,” said Glidden, whose adult children live in California and Hawaii, where she was born and raised.

She is not alone in her sense of social isolation.

Millions of Americans are struggling through life with few people they can trust for personal and professional help, a disconnect that raises a key barrier to recovery from the social, emotional and economic fallout of the pandemic, according to a new a poll from The Impact Genome Project and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll finds 18% of U.S. adults, or about 46 million people, say they have just one person or nobody they can trust for help in their personal lives, such as emergency child care needs, a ride to the airport or support when they fall sick. And 28% say they have just one person or nobody they can trust to help draft a resume, connect to an employer or navigate workplace challenges.

The isolation is more acute among Black and Hispanic Americans. Thirty-eight percent of Black adults and 35% of Hispanic adults said they had only one or no trusted person to help navigate their work lives, compared with 26% of white adults. In their personal lives, 30% of Hispanic adults and 25% of Black adults said they have one or no trusted people, while 14% of white adults said the same.

Researchers have long debated the idea that the U.S. has suffered from a decline in social capital, or the value derived from personal relationships and civic engagement.

The General Social Survey, a national representative survey conducted by NORC since 1972, suggests that the number of people Americans feel they can trust had declined by the early 2000s, compared with two decades earlier, although there is little consensus about the extent of this isolation or its causes. The rise of social media has added another layer of debate, as experts explore whether it broadens networks or lures people in isolating echo chambers.

The Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll sought to measure how much social capital Americans can count as they try to pick up the pieces of lives fractured by the pandemic. The findings suggest that for many Americans, the pandemic has chipped away at whatever social capital they had going into it.

Americans were more likely to report a decline than an increase in the number of people they could trust over the past year.

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