But Lower-Income and Less Educated Still Face Broad Digital Divide
Washington, DC - Middle and upper class African Americans and Hispanics are rapidly adopting broadband and are greatly narrowing the overall digital divide, according to a new study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research and policy institution that focuses on minority concerns and issues.
The study found that 94 percent of African Americans and 98 percent of Hispanics who have college degrees are now online, and that college-educated minority Americans who make over $50,000 are adopting broadband at the fastest rate of any group in the country.
Across all education and income brackets, the report says that 69 percent of African Americans and 58 percent of Hispanics now regularly use the Internet, compared with 79 percent of whites, and that the rate of broadband adoption in African American homes has risen to 59 percent from the 46 percent reported by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project just last year.
Despite the gains for more affluent minorities, the Joint Center report also noted lagging broadband adoption for lower-income, older and less educated blacks and Hispanics – with only about a third of them or less regularly using the Internet – and provided new information on how important Internet access and proficiency for members of these groups.
In the study, 92 percent of low-income African Americans have used the Internet to search for a job, almost double rate of low-income whites, while 77 percent of blacks and 64 percent of Hispanics with less than a high school education rely on the Internet for job search, compared to 17 percent of whites in this group. These same minority populations also regularly access the Internet to search and apply for public benefits. The report also notes that low-income people, in particular, are heavily reliant on public institutions such as libraries, schools, and community centers to get access to the Internet.
“The news that those that have the means are starting to regularly use the Internet for everyday activities is promising because it narrows the digital divide at that level,” noted Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute. “In today’s economy, however, with more low-income people needing to find work and government support to keep their heads above water, their access to the Internet is critical to moving them out of poverty.”
While the report said that broadband access has helped usher in social and economic gains for many minority Americans, it shares that “those Americans who stand to gain the most from the Internet are unable to use it to break the cycles of social isolation, poverty, and illiteracy” and that “this segment of the American population – one that is wrought with economic and social hardship – is largely prohibited from reaping the benefits of digital access."
“There is a ‘tale of two cities’ element in our research as poorer and less educated people – who perhaps can benefit most from use of the Internet – are still much less likely to be online. This should continue to be a key issue for our policymakers as we invest in broadband improvements across the nation,” said Dr. Turner-Lee.
Among the other findings detailed in the report:
Higher income African Americans and Hispanics are embracing today’s online content and “quality of life” applications at increased rates. Four of five respondents reported using the Internet to visit government websites and to search for health or medical information, and three of five users reported regular access to social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. While ownership and use of cell phones were high for minority users, most African Americans and Hispanics prefer to conduct broadband-enabled applications on a lap top or desktop. For Hispanics, the cost of accessing the Internet on their mobile device was a major factor in their decision. For minorities, having someone to help with making the transition online is also a significant factor in minority broadband adoption. Young people (27 percent) are the major drivers for getting new Internet users online. African American and Hispanic non-adopters of the Internet reported interest in getting online if they could share information with family and friends, and access public benefit.
The study also argues that efforts focused on broadband adoption are simply not enough to get more minorities and other non-adopters online. The report suggests that policymakers focus on increasing the value proposition for these groups, in addition to removing barriers to access. Moving people to integrate broadband Internet into all aspects of their daily lives will serve to improve their educational, health and employment opportunities.
“This study sheds further light on the enormous potential of the Internet to expand opportunity for every American,” said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. “And it highlights the great promise of broadband for uplifting the prospects of historically distressed communities if the nation’s policies and practices can do more to expand access and adoption across the board. We have a long way to go, but this at least gives us a framework to address some of the problems that have plagued our communities for far too long.”
The study, National Minority Broadband Adoption: Comparative Trends in Adoption, Acceptance and Use, is available on the Joint Center’s website at (www.jointcenter.org). This study is the first in a series of publications to be issued by the policy institute.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation's leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. The Joint Center will mark its 40th Anniversary of service in 2010. To learn more, please visit www.jointcenter.org.
Betty Anne Williams