Over the last few months, the New York Times has been running a series of articles on the New Hard Times. Many of these pieces investigate the costs of the currents economic crisis - costs in terms of homes lost, savings drained, and relationships strained. A smart and perceptive recent article in USA TODAY, "How Joblessness Hurts Us," by Thomas H. Sander and Robert Putnam points to another set of costs of the New Hard Times - costs in terms of community connections and increased isolation.
"Misery," Sander and Putnam write, "it turns out, doesn't love company. Distressing new research shows that unemployment fosters social isolation not just for the unemployed but also for their still-employed neighbors. Moreover, the negative consequences last much longer than the unemployment itself. Policymakers have focused on short-term help for the jobless, but they must address these longer-term community effects, too." This was true during the last Great Depression of the 1930s.
Researches back then discovered that people without jobs socialized less, attended fewer PTA meetings, and stopped going to church pot-lucks. The same drop in these kinds of daily activities that fostered community life seem to taking place now. The growing ranks of the unemployed tend to stay at home, avoid volunteering, and eschew social activities. To put it bluntly, the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone. What's more, as Sander and Putnam argue, the loss of social connections is difficult to recover, even after the unemployed find work. Prolonged periods of joblessness translate into permanent social isolation. The answer - an aggressive job creation campaign.
Not surprisingly, the comments on the USA TODAY webpage rail against this op-ed piece as predictable liberal whining, but this is not just about government spending as these critics charge, this is about the vital work of sustaining community.