What About the Wealth Gap?

by Kenneth Mallory on November 18, 2011

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, along with the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, has recently issued “Exploring the Digital Nation – Computer and Internet Use at Home,” a report which reflects findings of a survey gauging household broadband Internet adoption rates across the nation.

While the study indicates that 70 percent of Americans “subscribe to broadband service,” the report states that generally “lower income families, people with less education, those with disabilities, blacks, Hispanics, and rural residents generally lagged the national average in both broadband adoption and computer use.

“For example, home broadband adoption and computer use stood at only 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively, among rural households headed by a black householder without a high school diploma,” the report states.

The report also maintains that only 65 percent of African Americans and 67 percent of Hispanic Americans have a household computer and “and only slightly more than half of all black and Hispanic households (55 percent and 57 percent, respectively) had broadband service.”

Furthermore, “Exploring the Digital Nation” finds that even “after accounting for socio-economic and geographic factors, black and Hispanic households still lag white households in broadband adoption by 11 percentage points, though the gap between Asian and white households disappears.”

“An important topic for future research would be the persistence of broadband adoption gaps between the latter groups even after accounting for demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic factors,” the report concedes.

However, recent research by the Pew Research Center finding a 20 to 1 wealth gap between blacks and whites, and an 18 to 1 wealth gap between Hispanics and whites, could help explain the broadband adoption gap the NTIA references among these groups, according to MMTC’s Executive Director David Honig.

“Currently there’s a reason for this disparity that cannot be explained by the socioeconomic factors for which the scholars controlled,” said Honig. “They controlled for geographic location, age, income, education, but the elephant in the room … is wealth.”

Honig mentioned that “wealth disparities replicate themselves across generations” and can influence whether or not one has the means to buy a computer – an inextricable component of home broadband adoption.

“For home broadband adoption, a computer has to be purchased out of savings, out of wealth,” he said. “But there’s very little of that really, for African Americans and Hispanics, so consequently there’s been a gravitation by them to wireless where they over index, and they under index with computers and broadband at home.“

Honig discussed some critical implications of the lack of household broadband access – like the difficulty of children to finish homework without a computer at home.

While studies have shown that minorities increasingly rely on mobile Internet, it seems imperative that broadband policy activists continue the charge to increase home adoption.

“While wireless adoption is very important, it’s also very important that we close the digital divide in home broadband adoption,” said Honig.

  • Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has free-lanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.

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  • Wowsers

    With the ever going wealth gap… adoption rates has no where to go but down.

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