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Loneliness

Last month, Britain appointed its first “minister for loneliness,” who is charged with tackling what Prime Minister Theresa May called the “sad reality of modern life.” ...
Vivek Murthy, the former United States surgeon general, has written that loneliness and social isolation are “associated with a reduction in life span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”
- ERIC KLINENBERG, Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?, NYT, FEB. 9, 2018


America is suffering an epidemic of loneliness.

According to a recent large-scale survey from the health care provider Cigna, most Americans suffer from strong feelings of loneliness and a lack of significance in their relationships. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel alone or “left out.” Thirteen percent of Americans say that zero people know them well. The survey, which charts social isolation using a common measure known as the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, shows that loneliness is worse in each successive generation.
- Arthur C. Brooks, How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart, NYT, Nov. 23, 2018



Letters in response to the Brooks piece above:

In 2009, when we wrote “The Lonely American,” we were deeply troubled that Americans had fewer confidants than in the past, and almost 25 percent reported that they had not talked about matters of importance with anyone in the last six months. We speculated that many people felt beleaguered by the growing demands for more productivity and longer hours at work, side by side with greater job insecurity, and so they retreated after work, putting less effort into their connections with friends and neighbors.
- Jacqueline Olds, Richard S. Schwartz, Cambridge, Mass.
''Arthur C. Brooks (like David Brooks) is spreading the false story that we are undergoing a loneliness “epidemic.” Loneliness is a serious social problem, but there is no good evidence that it has spiked over the last couple decades or so.

That verdict is clear in the wider social science literature and in two broad investigations this year — one by CQ Researcher (“Loneliness and Social Isolation”) and another by a Senate committee (“All the Lonely Americans”). ...
We have no current epidemic of loneliness, but we do have periodic epidemics of alarm about loneliness, as symbolized by “The Lonely Crowd” (1950), “A Nation of Strangers” (1972), and “Bowling Alone” (2000) — oh, and “Report of the Country Life Commission” (1909).
False alarms matter, because they distract us from pressing, growing social problems....
- Claude S. Fischer, Berkeley, Calif.
I agree with Arthur C. Brooks that feelings of loneliness are becoming more consuming with each generation. As a 16-year-old member of Generation Z, I have often had these feelings of loneliness even though there are many wonderful people in my life. I am not an isolated case; this is a recurring feeling with my peers as well.

I agree that individuals flock to social media to feel a sense of community, but I think that social media itself was the catalyst for this disconnect from the real world.
- Sophie Holohan, San Jose, Calif.
- An Epidemic of Loneliness in America?, Responses to How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart, NYT, Dec. 8, 2018


We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime. The G.D.P. is growing at about 3.5 percent a year, which is about a point faster than many experts thought possible. We’re in the middle of the second-longest recovery in American history, and if it lasts for another eight months it will be the longest ever. If you were born in 1975, you’ve seen the U.S. economy triple in size over the course of your lifetime.

The gains are finally being widely shared, even by the least skilled. As Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute recently noted, the median usual weekly earnings for workers who didn’t complete high school shot up by 6.5 percent over the past year. Thanks mostly to government transfer programs, incomes for the bottom fifth of society have increased by about 80 percent over the past four decades.

And yet are we happy?

About 60 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country. Researchers with the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index interviewed 160,000 adults in 2017 to ask about their financial security, social relationships, sense of purpose and connectedness to community. Last year turned out to be the worst year for well-being of any since the study began 10 years ago.

As the recovery has advanced, people’s faith in capitalism has actually declined, especially among the young. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 29 see capitalism positively, a lower rate than in 2010, when the country was climbing out of the Great Recession.

So why the long faces? ...

Part of it, as Noah Smith of Bloomberg theorizes, may be disappointment among the well-educated young. They graduated from college, saddled with debt, and naturally expected the world to embrace them as their parents and schools had done. Instead, many entered into the gig economy, where a lot of work is temporary and insecure. Normal professions for liberal arts grads, like the law, are drying up. ...

But the biggest factor is the crisis of connection. People, especially in the middle- and working-class slices of society, are less likely to volunteer in their community, less likely to go to church, less likely to know their neighbors, less likely to be married than they were at any time over the past several decades. In short, they have fewer resources to help them ride the creative destruction that is ever-present in a market economy.

And they are dying. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. ...
Economic anxiety is now downstream from and merged with sociological, psychological and spiritual decay. There are thousands of employers looking for workers and unable to find any. Many young people do not have the support structures they need to persevere in school and get skills.

Many working-class men have not been raised in those relationships that inculcate the so-called soft skills. A 2018 LinkedIn survey of 4,000 professionals found that training for those soft skills — leadership, communication and collaboration — was the respondents’ highest priority. They valued these flexible skills more than specific technical ones, and find them in short supply.
- David Brooks, It’s Not the Economy, Stupid: How to conduct economic policy in an age of social collapse., NYT, Nov. 29, 2018


We moved to New Jersey from Ohio on Jan. 1. A year later, we still had no friends, no invitations for New Year’s Eve.
- Monique Bernstein, Party of Two, in Brian Rea,

Tiny Love Stories: ‘Don’t Message Me if You Can’t Handle a Real Woman’, NYT, Jan. 1, 2019





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