We all have sources of hope – faith, family, friends, work, nature, creative ventures. That said, the State of America is – in a word – anxious. The good news is we are collectively strong, always come through, and look out for each other. The bad news is we are in a vexed mood.
If you think you are the only one worried about our culture, economy, moral compass, public health, safety, where we are going, whether we appreciate history, are educating kids properly, are responding to illegality – drugs, aliens, riots, crimethink again. You are not alone.
National polls show we are unified in anxiety. What are the facts, implications, sources of hope in this odd national moment? To address our national mood – knowing leading facts helps.
Most Americans are concerned about the future, 95 percent “concerned,” 61 percent “a great deal.” Some of that is political, but the gamut is wide, economic and social to moral, legal, and national security. See, e.g., The vast majority of Americans are concerned about the current state of the country, a new Insider poll shows.
Slicing data for insight, many Americans want to see less government intrusion, with support for government problem-solving down 11 percent, down among Independents by 18 percent. See, e.g., Americans Revert to Favoring Reduced Government Role.
Most Americans see a nation in conflict with itself. Pew found “nine-in-ten” see different political persuasions in conflict, less understanding. “Seven-in-ten” see ethnic and racial conflict as a “serious problem.” See. e.g., Americans see stronger societal conflicts than people in other advanced economies.
Other measures of angst relate to satisfaction. Gallup found 75 percent of respondents are “dissatisfied” for all sorts of reasons. Some worry over health, others crime, still others debt, terrorism, education, and climate. See, Satisfaction With the United States; 3. Americans’ views of the problems facing the nation.
Interestingly, we are not unified on our “number one” problem, with Gallup scattering us widely. Only 16 percent think our biggest problems are economic. See, Most Important Problem.
Clearly, the prime mover was COVID – affecting perceptions of health, safety, economy, confidence, and contentment – a big source of public skittishness and disaffection.
A recent Harris poll found two stressors top the others, 81 percent worried for “the future of the country” and 80 percent over the “pandemic.” Roughly 74 percent worry about “political unrest,” 11 other worries follow. See, What Americans are most stressed about.
Apparently, we are also getting irascible or acting out. Airlines are seeing “a dramatic increase” in misbehavior, 2,500 “increasingly violent and dangerous” incidents recorded. See, e.g., Four Reasons In-Flight Airline Incidents Are Increasing.
Meantime, cities are experiencing high crime, including a 33 percent increase in homicides last year. The blame goes to racial violence, defunding police, economic worries, joblessness, and COVID isolation. See, e.g., The US saw significant crime rise across major cities in 2020. And it’s not letting up; We don’t know why violent crime is up but we know there’s more than one cause.
Narrowing things, city dwellers are probably more anxious about COVID and crime (due to population density), rural, conservative, older Americans more stressed by federal overreach, constitutional violations, national debt, spending, and health care. See, e.g., Yahoo! News COVID-19 Vaccination Survey.
Responses to worry are epic – fight or flight, engagement to reduce worry, or withdrawal. Data seems to support both reactions. Conservatives are rising to fight constitutional challenges, border insecurity, police cuts, overspending, and Critical Race Theory, but on the other end, record numbers are quitting, retiring, and disengaging. See, e.g., Americans are quitting jobs at record rates, while job openings tick down.
Some anxiety causes hide in plain sight. COVID drove people to social media, which tends to drive people apart as often as together. In 2021, Pew recorded 84 percent of adults from 18 to 29 use social media, 81 percent from 30 to 49, and 73 percent from 50 to 64. At the same time, many view social media as a propagator of negativity. See, Social Media Use in 2021; Poll: Americans give social media a clear thumbs-down.
Other indicia are interesting. Mental health hotlines lit up last year, rising with domestic abuse and drug overdoses. Mental health calls in March 2020 were 891 percent higher than prior years, domestic violence interventions and drug overdoses were both high. See, e.g., CDC: Suicides decreased in 2020; Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic; The Drug Overdose Toll in 2020 and Near-Term Actions for Addressing It.
A direct measure of mood comes from the American Psychiatric Association, which reports 41 percent are more anxious in 2021 than 2020, 60 percent more anxious in 2020 than 2019, and then 53 percent are anxious about the mental health of their children. See, New APA Poll Shows Sustained Anxiety Among Americans; More than Half of Parents are Concerned About the Mental Well-being of Their Children; The State Of Mental Health In America; APA: U.S. Adults Report Highest Stress Level Since Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic .
So, where is hope? Everywhere – as Americans still care about Americans. Three times the number of Americans think things will get back to normal as a year ago. We seem to increasingly see the glass as half full – not entirely, but not half empty. See, e.g., Americans may be ready to move past Delta.
Suicides are surprisingly down, charitable giving up – reaching 471 billion – and we are getting active in changing the mood. Parents are especially active, affirming that people are prepared to address national issues at the local level, not let national media define life. See, e.g. Why Suicides Have Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic; Giving USA 2021: In a year of unprecedented events and challenges, charitable giving reached a record $471.44 billion in 2020; The Parent-led Education Movement Can No Longer Be Ignored; New poll finds overwhelming number of Americans worried about what is being taught in US schools.
Bottom line: Anxiety is endemic in societies, as in individuals, rising and falling with events, reduced by sources of hope. We have a concern, but a reservoir of resilience, proven sources of hope – faith, family, friends, work, nature, creativity. The good news is the American People are collectively strong and always have been – when we look out for each other.
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