Internet Access and Barriers to Equity
By Melissa Winkler, Community Relations Manager, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
Internet access, or lack thereof, is an incredibly important component of equity and access in our communities. In our increasingly digital society, social and economic mobility are contingent upon affordable and reliable Internet access. According to data from Pew Research, 78% of households with income of less than $30,000 per year use the internet, compared with 98% from households with incomes $75,000-100,000, but only 45% of the less than $30,000 group has internet access in their home. This gap in usage relates to affordability and access. The access divide becomes particularly clear when usage data is broken down by communities: 89% of both urban and suburban use the internet compared to just 80% of rural communities.
As technology has become solidly integrated into nearly every aspect of American life, from education to the modern workplace, the effects of a lack of Internet access on long-term mobility become more significant. As Pew indicates in a study on the homework gap, “low-income homes with children are four times more likely to be without broadband than their middle or upper-income counterparts” meaning that completing essential schoolwork at home is difficult or impossible for these low-income students. Without access to the Internet, the potential for education success for children in these vulnerable students, most of whom are facing significant additional barriers and deep achievement gaps, will only worsen.
Lack of internet access also creates a significant gap and mobility barrier for adults seeking employment. Most jobs are posted online and require internet access simply to apply, which means that job seekers in low-income homes without internet access face incredibly difficulties even in beginning their job search. Not to mention, many higher wage jobs require a level of computer literacy that those without consistent affordable internet access may lack.
Because the internet has become so ubiquitous in our culture, many middle and upper income homes take affordable and reliable access for granted. Assumptions about internet access shape the way that people interact with our world. Educational resources, job searches, workforce development, access to pubic resources, and interactions with private brands all have internet based components. Lack of internet access solidifies these barriers for low-income households and communities, leaving already vulnerable populations even further behind.