Will Blacks Be Left Behind in the Digital Divide?

Not having internet access in the home could hold many minorities back from better jobs and a more prosperous lifestyle.

Posted: 12/07/2011 09:00 AM EST
Filed Under unemployment, jobs

(Photo: REUTERS/Arko Datta)

A racial and socio-economic gap has been forged between the number of Americans who have access to broadband Internet in their homes, with African-Americans, Latinos and low-income households faring the worse. With our world becoming increasingly wireless, and with everything from jobs to health services heading online, some advocates fear these disparities will hold minorities back from a more prosperous future.

 

Susan P. Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy, writes in The New York Times:

 

“Increasingly, we are a country in which only the urban and suburban well-off have truly high-speed Internet access, while the rest — the poor and the working class — either cannot afford access or use restricted wireless access as their only connection to the Internet. As our jobs, entertainment, politics and even health care move online, millions are at risk of being left behind.”

 

According to a recent report from the Department of Commerce, in 2010 only 55 percent of Black households and 57 percent of Latino households had broadband Internet at home, compared to 81 percent of Asian households and 72 percent of white households. Finances apparently play a role, as 43 percent of households with annual incomes below $25,000 had broadband access at home, while 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000 had broadband.

 

To help ease the hardship on millions of Americans, and to help them prepare for an Internet-driven job market, the Commerce Department has instituted Internet grant programs that invest in public computer centers such as local libraries. "To get a good job, you often need access to the Internet and online skills,” said Lawrence E. Strickling of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

 

The Internet  has emerged as a vital tool for job-seekers: they can quickly upload a résumé and cover letter to apply for jobs, stage interviews via video conferencing and even keep in touch with potential employers thorough social media. A stable broadband connection processes these types of tasks at speeds much faster than a wireless connection. While smartphones may offer convenience, the shortcomings are just as apparent.

 

“The problem is that smartphone access is not a substitute for wired. The vast majority of jobs require online applications, but it is hard to type up a résumé on a hand-held device; it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection,” Crawford said.

 

 

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