by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The spirit of American volunteerism has been on display from the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis: Medical workers have flocked to virus hotspots to help; scientists are volunteering to battle the virus; students are providing childcare for health workers; community volunteers are delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable and sewing thousands of protective masks for hospital workers. The list goes on.
The provision of these services is no doubt vital. But the social capital produced by such civic activity also plays an important role, by protecting against the ills of isolation, such as anxiety and depression, and mitigating financial hardship. In short, if you entered this crisis already embedded in strong personal and social relationships, you are very likely faring better than those who did not.
There is considerable evidence that those who volunteer enjoy better health, higher levels of happiness, and lower levels of stress and depression than those who do not. For example, according to AEI’s survey on community and society, people who do not volunteer are nearly twice as likely than those who actively volunteer in community organizations to say that “things are not too happy these days.” They are also twice as likely to say they often feel isolated from others. Civic life also helps produce a network of “weak ties,” defined as people you know through association but do not consider close friends. These relationships have been shown to be helpful in opening doors and finding new jobs.
All of these benefits of social capital are doubly important during hardship.
It is well-known that a large share of America’s civic life happens through religious congregations. These, in particular, have proved effective at fortifying people’s resilience for times like this.
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