Smile Politely

The eighth loneliest city in the US

A large grassy area with one person standing alone in the distance.
Maddie Rice

Recently we stumbled upon an NBC Chicago article with the clickbait headline “This Illinois city is the 2nd loneliest in the US, recent analysis reveals.” That Illinois city was Danville, with Champaign-Urbana coming in not too far behind as the 8th loneliest city (obviously, they are technically two separate cities, but also Chambana is a city so we will let that part go). These findings were courtesy of a financial publication called 24/7 Wall Street. It should be noted that their criteria for loneliness was very narrow. They “examined US Census Bureau data and ranked 384 metro areas and the District of Columbia by the share of nonfamily households living alone out of all households, according to its website.” There were no research subjects, interviews with people, examination of a multitude of contributing factors. Basically, if you live alone, you are lonely. 

That certainly can be true, but you can also be lonely within a multiple-person household. In a 2016 article from the National Institutes of Medicine, author Eric Klinenberg says this, when considering how an increase in the number of people in the US living alone might impact health:

One possibility is that there is a causal link between living alone, being socially isolated, and feeling lonely. But these are three distinct conditions, and experiencing one (living alone) does not necessarily mean experiencing one or both of the others (being isolated or feeling lonely). For example, when I interviewed more than 300 people for my book, Going Solo, many told me that nothing had made them lonelier than being in a bad marriage. Moreover, survey data show that, on average, Americans who live alone spend more time with friends and neighbors and volunteer in civic organizations more often than married people. Unfortunately, journalists, scholars, and health care providers often conflate living alone, feeling lonely, and being isolated, and the result is widespread confusion about each condition

Because living alone does not automatically equate to feeling lonely or being socially isolated, we wanted to examine each of those ideas separately, and how that looks here in C-U.


First, let’s go with the 24/7 Wall Street definition of loneliness:  “the share of nonfamily households living alone out of all households.” According to US Census data in 2022, 36.1% of nonfamily households in C-U were one-person households. It’s not surprising that this would be the case, in a community that is home to a large flagship university. People are migrating here, often for defined, temporary periods as graduate students, visiting lecturers, or faculty. The needs of these groups vary widely, and it can be difficult to fully assess whether or not a place has the resources — renting, disability resources, public transportation, grocers and specialty shops  — you may require. 

Is C-U a place that is accommodating to single people? One could argue that society in general is not. This 2021 Vox article does, stating:

American society is structurally antagonistic toward single and solo-living people. Some of this isn’t deliberate, as households cost a baseline amount of money to maintain, and that amount is lessened when the burden is shared by more than one person. There are other forms of antagonism, too, deeply embedded in the infrastructure of everyday life. Even as more couples than ever “cohabitate” without being married, so many of the structural privileges of partnership still revolve around the institution of marriage.

We’ve briefly discussed the high and rising costs of renting in this area. While this is a crisis that impacts all who rent, when there is one person with one income there is more burden to bear. 

When you live alone, you are in charge of all things, monetary and otherwise. If you own a home, that brings a host of maintenance responsibilities. If you are living alone and do not have connections to neighbors, family, or others, you are left to fend for yourself in a lot of ways. Some quick Google searching led us to a few resource lists and options for those that need assistance with a variety of things, and don’t have close contacts to rely on. The U of I School of Social Work has an evolving resource page with connections to support groups, medical assistance, rental assistance, and more. On the City of Champaign website, there is a C-U Help page with a list of links for those who might be in need of a specific service, typically related to low-income circumstances or complications.  


We are experiencing a loneliness epidemic in the US, so much so that US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has made combatting it a priority. His advisory reported that “Across age groups, people are spending less time with each other in person than two decades ago. The advisory reported that this was most pronounced in young people aged 15-24 who had 70% less social interaction with their friends.” Of course the pandemic exacerbated this issue, but it was simmering well before that. 

Loneliness and isolation have implications for physical health and mental health, leading to higher levels of afflictions from heart disease to depression and anxiety. The surgeon general’s report noted that it can lead to premature death, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

If you are a regular Smile Politely reader, you’ll note that there is no shortage of things to do in this community in the way of events, volunteer opportunities, or affinity groups to join. But what about places to be? To gather with and meet others? We often lament our empty spaces issue in C-U, and wish for those empty spaces to be filled with more “third spaces”… a place that isn’t a bar or a church where you can find community. The Literary has billed itself as this sort of space, there is a group working on creating a queer community space and Uniting Pride has community groups. It would be great if there were more of these sorts of opportunities. 

With May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to know what sorts of resources are available here in C-U. Champaign-Urbana Public Health has a guide to affordable mental and behavioral health services in the area. Early on in the pandemic, The U of I Department of Psychology compiled a comprehensive list of mental health resources for students, faculty, and community members. They’ve continued to update it since. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Champaign is a good local resource for crisis situations, and also options for ongoing support. 

What have your experiences of loneliness, isolation, or singleness been in C-U? What has worked well (or not)? Email us at [email protected], and if we get enough responses, we’ll publish a suggestions guide. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

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