Wide Digital Divide Persists Between Low- and High-income Households

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A Pew Research Center survey shows that people making less than $30,000 have few digital devices and lack internet access, in sharp contrast to nearly all of those making $100,000 or more.

The digital divide between low-income and high-income Americans is very wide, even though smartphone ownership has soared during the past 20 years, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

Nearly 25% of adults surveyed with household incomes below $30,000 a year said they don’t own a smartphone, while more than 40% said they do not have broadband services, a computer or a tablet at home. 

On the other hand, nearly all adults with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more have broadband and laptop and desktop computers, and 68% have tablets.

The Pew study also found that 13% of low-income people do not have access to any technologies at home, compared with only 1% of high-income earners. 

Low-income adults also rely more heavily on smartphones, according to Pew, with 27% of those surveyed being phone-only internet users with no broadband at home. This percentage remained unchanged from 2019 but it is a substantial increase from 12% in 2013.

Pew said that reliance on smartphones means that low-income adults likely use them for tasks traditionally done on a computer with a large screen, such as applying for jobs. The disparity is also seen in the “homework gap,” which is the gap between K-12 students who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. 

Among the allowable uses for the direct state and local aid provided by the American Rescue Plan being distributed is broadband infrastructure. President Biden has called for including broadband in an infrastructure package he is pushing for and some Republicans have also shown support for the idea.

There are several steps states can take to expand broadband access to low-income residents and others, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study. Dedicated state offices, planning and technical assistance and competitive grant programs are key components to effective expansion efforts, the study shows.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted earlier this year. For more details about the research click here.

Jean Dimeo is managing editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Schools, Libraries Seek to Use Federal Funds to Build Their Own Internet Networks

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