An Opportunity to Bridge the Digital Divide

Jamaal Young

One of the more important benefits of smart phones is that they are helping to bridge the “digital divide” between people who have access to the internet and those low-income Americans—particularly blacks and Latinos—who do not. For foundations that focus on workforce development, community-based organizations providing job training, and African-American and Hispanic-American advocacy groups this presents a great opportunity to collaborate with businesses to recruit, train and employ tech-savvy applicants.

According to the Pew Center, African Americans and Hispanic Americans are using their smart phones—particularly Android phones—to communicate ideas, access information and create content at greater rates than white Americans. As digital technology becomes increasingly more mobile, this would suggest that these communities are well-positioned to bridge the digital divide in a way that might overcome some of the historical challenges to economic success it has presented.

Take for example the unemployment situation, which is significantly higher amongst blacks and Latinos than whites. Right now, it is incredibly difficult to search for a job without access to the internet and perhaps even harder to apply for that job using a smart phone. Imagine if the “map” function on an Apple or Android phone, in addition to listing nearby restaurants, bars and movie theaters, also displayed those businesses looking to hire. People of color would then have greater awareness of employment opportunities in their neighborhoods. The next step would be to design job applications that are smart phone friendly, something that might not be too difficult given the amount of personal data stored on a typical smart phone.

Any organization looking to follow this path would have a strong partner in the federal government, which under the Federal Communications Commission just this month announced plans to expand broadband access and improve digital literacy for low-income Americans. They would also place themselves on the forefront of the kind of techniques any organization must use if it is looking to engage, educate or organize young Americans, who are also using mobile technology at an ever-increasing rate.

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