Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream & the Legatum Institute
Social Capital assesses how cohesive a society is in terms of people trusting, respecting and helping one another as well as the institutional structures they interact with. Societies with lower levels of trust tend to experience lower levels of economic growth and social well-being and are therefore less prosperous.
Despite the internet connecting more people online than ever, many Americans are experiencing isolation and feeling disconnected from their local communities. The 2022 American Dream Prosperity Index (ADPI) provides a comprehensive assessment of Social Capital across states and counties. Social Capital measures how much people trust, respect and help other people as well as the institutions that govern our society. The Social Capital pillar is made up of four elements: Personal and Family Relationships, Social Networks, Institutional Trust and Civic and Social Participation.
As illustrated by the chart, while the 2022 Index confirms that Personal and Family Relationships have strengthened over the past decade, it also reveals that Social Networks have weakened, with all but four states and the District of Columbia have seen a decline since 2012.
The Social Network element assesses the strength of an individual’s social ties with their wider interpersonal network, beyond their immediate family and friends, such as a person's neighbors.
In 2012, two in three Americans nationally reported speaking frequently to their neighbors, but this had fallen to nearly one in two people a decade later, with some states seeing an even sharper decline. For instance, in Connecticut in 2012, three out of four residents spoke frequently with their neighbors. By 2022, however, this had fallen to one in two, representing a 25 percent decline.
In addition to strong relationships across communities, high levels of trust are also foundational to working collaboratively, so it is a concern that trust levels are falling. Trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, and according to Pew Research Center, only one in two Americans report trusting each other, and nearly eight in ten Americans say that they trust each other ‘far too little’ or ‘too little’.
Strengthening the pathways to prosperity across America, including addressing the national increase in gun violence and rising mental health challenges as reported in previous articles, can only be created collaboratively. The long-term fraying of America’s social fabric is a barrier to progress. Identifying and overcoming the barriers to greater prosperity is best achieved when all parts of American society – government, business leaders, philanthropists, community organizations and individuals, play their part and work collaboratively in developing and implementing solutions.
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