Community matters: A look at social capital, civic health, and quality of life in the United States - AEI

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Event Summary

On February 5, AEI released the new AEI Survey on Community and Society (SCS). AEI’s Samuel J. Abrams presented the findings, highlighting Americans’ positive views of their local communities, how social infrastructure relates to social capital, and the widespread belief that the American dream is achievable.

Following the presentation, AEI’s Karlyn Bowman asked the panel to respond and share insights from their own work. James Fallows discussed how the survey data showing optimism at the local level aligned with much of what he and Deborah Fallows learned while writing “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” (Pantheon, 2018). He also discussed the challenges that national media face in conveying what is working well at the local level while dealing with national issues. Deborah Fallows emphasized how local institutions such as libraries and schools can play an essential role in building community. Scott Winship of the Joint Economic Committee discussed how, despite the positive findings about people’s feelings toward their communities, other findings raise concerns about the strength of neighborhood relationships.

AEI’s Ryan Streeter reviewed some of the findings about how participation in religious activities correlates with lower levels of loneliness. He also talked about themes that he and others at AEI plan to explore in greater depth in future reports on the SCS.

— Eleanor O’Neil


Event Description

The new AEI Survey on Community and Society explores how people feel about the country, their communities, and their prospects in America today. The findings reveal a more sanguine storyline residing beneath the surface of the daily reporting on US social and political divisions. Most Americans still believe in the goodness of their communities and neighbors and think they can achieve the American dream. Social isolation and limited civic engagement are real problems in America, but most people feel they have others to rely on and believe people like them can have a positive impact on their communities.

Please join AEI for a discussion of this survey, featuring responses from Scott Winship from the Joint Economic Committee and James Fallows and Deborah Fallows, coauthors of national bestseller “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America” (Pantheon, 2018).

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


8:45 AM

9:00 AM
Welcome and introduction:
Ryan Streeter, AEI

9:10 AM
Samuel J. Abrams, AEI

9:35 AM
Panel discussion

Samuel J. Abrams, AEI
Deborah Fallows, coauthor, “Our Towns”
James Fallows, The Atlantic; coauthor, “Our Towns”
Ryan Streeter, AEI
Scott Winship, Joint Economic Committee

Karlyn Bowman, AEI

10:15 AM

10:30 AM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Eleanor O’Neil at [email protected], 202.862.5899.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Samuel J. Abrams is a visiting scholar at AEI, where he focuses on questions of related civic and political culture and American ideologies. He is concurrently a professor of politics and social science at Sarah Lawrence College and a faculty fellow with New York University’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research. Dr. Abrams has been widely published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The American Interest, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. He is the author of several books on a variety of topics including public opinion, Congress, religion and society, and polarization. His scholarly articles have been featured in peer-reviewed journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, The Jewish Journal, and PS: Political Science & Politics. He is presently working on two book projects exploring partisanship, polarization, and society. Dr. Abrams has an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University and is an alumnus of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Program on Inequality and Social Policy. He received an A.B. in political science and sociology from Stanford University.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI, where she compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, the environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women’s attitudes. In addition, she has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States.

Deborah Fallows is a writer and a linguist. She has written extensively on language, education, families and work, China, and travel for The Atlantic, National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, and The Washington Monthly. Her book “Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010) is based on her three-year experience living and working in China. Most recently, Dr. Fallows was a senior research fellow at the Pew Research Center and, before that, director of data architecture for Oxygen Media. Previously, she was assistant dean and assistant director of admissions at Georgetown University. Dr. Fallows has an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin.

James Fallows is a longtime correspondent for The Atlantic, reporting from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and within the United States in Texas, Washington State, and California. He has written 12 books and won the National Book Award, the National Magazine Award, and a documentary Emmy. His work has also appeared in many other magazines and as public radio commentaries since the 1980s. Mr. Fallows studied American history and literature at Harvard, studied economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and worked for two years in the White House as President Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter. He was also part of the program design team for Microsoft’s Word program, and he is the founding chairman of New America.

Ryan Streeter is the director of domestic policy studies at AEI, where he oversees research in education, American citizenship, politics, public opinion, and social and cultural studies. Before joining AEI, he was executive director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Streeter has had a distinguished career in government service, which includes being deputy chief of staff for policy for Indiana Governor Mike Pence, special assistant for domestic policy to President George W. Bush at the White House, and policy adviser to Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith. Outside of government, he has served as a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and as a research fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is the author of “Transforming Charity: Toward a Results-Oriented Social Sector” (Hudson Institute, 2001); the editor of “Religion and the Public Square in the 21st Century” (Hudson Institute, 2001); the coauthor of “The Soul of Civil Society: Voluntary Associations and the Public Value of Moral Habits” (Lexington Books, 2002); and a contributor to the Stephen Goldsmith book, “Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work Through Grassroots Citizenship” (Hudson Institute, 2002). In addition to his many television and radio appearances, which include BBC News, CNBC, and Fox News, Dr. Streeter’s articles have been widely published in outlets including National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Post. Dr. Streeter has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Emory University.

Scott Winship is the executive director-designate of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and directs the Social Capital Project for Chairman-Designate Mike Lee. Before his current position, he conducted research on living standards, poverty, inequality, unemployment, and economic mobility at the Manhattan Institute, where he was the Walter B. Wriston Fellow, and at the Brookings Institution. He is an honorary adviser of two new think tanks: the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and the Archbridge Institute. Dr. Winship received a Ph.D. in social policy from Harvard University.

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