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By Claire Hegstrom
When you read the words “digital divide,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Maybe your mind jumps to the group of people you regularly see at your library’s computer lab, or the children who stay after school to use the tablets to complete their homework. Whatever you think of, you know the digital divide means that people in your community don’t have access to a computer or internet services at home.
The truth is, the digital divide is so much more than that. It encompasses access to technology like computers, smartphones and tablets, but it also refers to the digital literacy gap and access to affordable broadband across rural and urban communities alike.
One of the most important steps to learning how to bridge the digital divide is getting a full understanding of who the technology gap directly and indirectly impacts: Everyone! Here are a few hurdles we face on the path to digital equity.
Whether it be a school-age child looking to complete their homework online, a post-college graduate applying for jobs, or a retired Veteran booking a doctor’s appointment, everyone needs internet access at home.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Pew research survey found that about 1 in 5 teenage students said they were unable to complete their homework due to lack of internet or access to a computer at home. A higher disparity can be seen in Black and Hispanic households, where a staggering 1 in 3 families lack access to a computer. Since the pandemic began, 9 in 10 parents in the U.S. have reported that their children are receiving some type of online schooling where internet connection is required.
Now imagine a family where one or both parents are working from home and multiple children are remote learning under one roof. High speed internet at home is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to learn and make a living!
For those fresh on the job market, access to technology and the skills to use it is a must! In a recent study, 90% of job recruiters said they used social media to search for candidates to fill job openings. As an added barrier, it is almost unheard of to find paper applications for jobs in the United States, as most are sourced online.
Older adults are relying more and more on internet and technology devices to stay connected with those who matter most: Family, doctors, and friends. The pandemic has shown the devastating impacts this population suffers when they lack the skills needed to book an appointment online or participate in a telehealth visit.
21.2 million Americans across the country are not connected to high-speed internet. Of those people, almost 80% live in urban communities. While access to affordable internet is a nationwide issue, we see an even larger price discrepancy between rural and urban communities for the same level of internet service.
In a recent Pew survey, only 43% of adults making $30,000 a year or less had internet service at home. In contrast, 93% of adults surveyed with a household income of $100,000 or more did have access to high-speed internet.
While free and low-cost internet plans do exist, much of the information on affordable internet options is found online, creating yet another barrier to unconnected communities.
Almost every aspect of life involves some form of digital literacy. In fact, 74% of adults in the United States use a computer at work, and a reported 81% of adults use a computer to accomplish everyday activities outside the office.
If 16% of the U.S. population could benefit from digital literacy training, we’re missing out on a huge population of innovators, scientists, and maybe even the next revolutionary!
High-speed internet access and digital literacy skills are the building blocks of a healthy economy. Adults need technology skill to pursue secondary education, advance in their careers, open a bank account, apply for a mortgage, the list goes on and on.
When we trace the impact that digital skill gaps have on schooling and early career placement, we learn that the toll on our economy is severe. In a recent McKinsey study, it is estimated that the United States will suffer a gross domestic product loss of up to $271 billion per year by 2040 if learning gaps brought on by the pandemic aren’t addressed.
We may never be able to completely close the digital divide, but understanding the many ways the technology gap hinders our society from moving forward is the first step toward bridging the technology gap and ensuring digital equity for all.
Looking for more ways to make an impact? Read these other blog posts:
Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.
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