It seems like the Internet is everywhere, with everyone tweeting, posting, reading, and enjoying its many resources. But as educators and nonprofits, we know not everyone is online. We see the people who are affected by the digital divide and the real problems they face, every day.
A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study revealed that 15% of American adults ages 18 and older do not use the Internet or email. And even among the 85% of adults who do go online, 9% of them do not have Internet access at home. It’s an issue that reaches across all age groups and state lines.
The costs of digital exclusion rise every day in terms of missed opportunities in education, healthcare and employment. Those who are getting left behind in the digital divide are often the ones who need it most. The study revealed a disproportionate number of some demographic groups:
- 57% of adults over age 65. They need access to sign up for a healthcare plan and enroll in other government benefits.
- 46% of adults earning less than $30K a year. They need it to find and apply for better jobs.
- 63% of adults without a high school diploma. They need it to take the GED, find better jobs, and apply for benefits.
- 59% of adults living with a disability. They need access and a working knowledge to enroll in government programs and receive benefits.
Why are so many Americans offline? There are three main barriers: cost, relevancy, and skills. Nearly half of survey respondents pointed toward financial issues such as the expense of owning a computer or paying for a connection; some said they had no need for the Internet; others cited a lack of digital skills.
Barrier 1: “It’s not relevant.”
In the Pew study, 34% of the non-users said the Internet is just not relevant to them, or they have no need for it. But the Internet has relevance for everyone – for work, education, healthcare, and more.
- Using the Internet to look for a job reduces the time spent unemployed by 25%.
- More than 80% of Fortune 500 companies post their job openings online only and require online applications.
- 50% of today’s jobs require technology skills, and this percentage is expected to grow to 77% in the next decade.
- As of January 2014, the GED test will only be available online.
- Broadband-enabled remote health care monitoring can save $197 billion in health care costs over 25 years.
Barrier 2: “It’s too expensive.”
Between the initial purchase of a computer, continual upgrades, and the typical monthly cost of broadband plans, getting online in America takes a big bite out of an individual’s or family’s budget. Lack of competition and the high costs of emerging technologies are just two of the reasons. Check out the infographic we posted in September that examines the high cost of access.
Barrier 3: “It’s too confusing.”
Another reason for low Internet adoption is a lack of digital literacy skills. In the Pew Study, 32% of respondents said they felt the Internet is not very easy to use, they feel frustrated getting online, and they worry about issues such as spam, spyware, and hackers.
We can do better.
Bridging the digital divide is essential to create thriving communities, but it will take cross-sector efforts to make the leap. Look for part 2 of this blog to learn about a new program we’re launching in partnership with other nonprofits to help close the gap.