18% of U.S. Adults Have Just 1 Person to Depend on for Help in Life: Poll

A new poll reveals 18 percent of American adults have only one person that they can depend on in life following the COVID-19 pandemic's onset.

The findings show 46 million U.S. adults are struggling with loneliness and have just one person or no one to turn to for help with issues such as support when ill, emergency childcare support or even a ride to catch a flight, according to a poll from The Impact Genome Project and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that sought to measure social capital.

"Compared to the way social capital can be leveraged in other disasters, the key difference has been that this is a disaster where your civic duty was to be on your own," said Jennifer Benz, the deputy director of The AP-NORC Center.

In regards to dealing with workplace issues, 28 percent of American adults said they have one person or no one to go to if they face challenges, need resume advice or support with finding an employer.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Man Dines Alone in New York City
A person dines outside a restaurant in Bryant Park amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 14, 2021 in New York City. A new poll reveals 46 million American adults have only one person or no one to depend on in life for help. Noam Galai/Getty Images

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, Mich., 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.

The poll shows isolation is more acute among Black and Hispanic Americans. Thirty-eight percent of Black adults and 35 percent of Hispanic adults said they had only one or no trusted person to help navigate their work lives, compared with 26 percent of white adults. In their personal lives, 30 percent of Hispanic adults and 25 percent of Black adults said they have one or no trusted people, while 14 percent 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 poll's 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. Just 6 percent of Americans said their network of trusted people grew, compared with 16 percent who reported that it shrank. While the majority of Americans said the number of people they could trust stayed the same, nearly 3 in 10 said they asked for less support from family and friends because of COVID-19.

Community bonds have proved to be critical to recovery from calamities such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, said Benz.

But the nature of the pandemic made those bonds difficult or even impossible to maintain. Schools, community centers, churches, synagogues and mosques closed. People couldn't ask neighbors or grandparents for help with child care or other needs for fear of spreading the virus.

About half of Americans are engaged in civic groups such as religious institutions, schools or community service groups, according to the new poll. And 42 percent of all adults said they have become less involved with civic groups during the pandemic, compared with just 21 percent who said they became more engaged.

Surveys from the Pew Research Center suggested that relocation increased during the pandemic. While some people moved to be closer to family, more relocated because of job loss or other financial stresses.

Warlin Rosso, 29, has moved often in pursuit of financial stability, often at the cost of his social ties.

He left behind his entire family, including 14 siblings, when he immigrated to the U.S. five years ago from the Dominican Republic. He worked at a warehouse in Chicago for three years, sharing an apartment with a girlfriend. But when that relationship fell apart, he couldn't afford to move out on his own. In December 2019, he relocated to Jackson, Mississippi, where a childhood friend let him move in.

That friend, Rosso said, remains the only person in Jackson he can trust for help. As the pandemic closed in, Rosso struggled in a city where the Hispanic community is tiny.

Through social media, he found work with a Nicaraguan man who owned a construction business. Later, he found a training program that landed him a job as hospital aide.

His co-workers are friendly, but he feels isolated. Sometimes, he said, patients bluntly ask to be helped by a non-Latino worker. He hopes eventually to get a similar job back in Chicago, where he has friends.

"It's not always welcoming for Hispanics here," Rosso said. "Here, I'm alone."

Lone Person at an Observation Tower
In this April 26, 2021, file photo a person stands on an observation tower as the moon rises in New Albany, Ind. 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. Charlie Riedel/AP Photo