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Impact of Digital Inclusion on Communities: Young Adults

Posted on November 11, 2022 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

The digital divide historically and disproportionately affects low-to-moderate-income households and communities of color. It is the condition that exists where only some people can access home internet, computing devices, and digital literacy training opportunities, and those who cannot. The primary reason people are disconnected from home broadband and, by extension, large-screen computing devices is cost.

The COVID-19 pandemic made the necessity of digital inclusion clear and highlighted pervasive gaps in households with K-12 students. Since Black and Hispanic adults are less likely than their White counterparts to have a home internet subscription and own a computer, and at least 1/4 of Hispanic households are smartphone-only internet users, students in these homes face tremendous disadvantages completing essential school tasks, especially homework. Depending on their ability for post-secondary education, even their higher education institution may be a digital desert, negatively distorting students’ experiences in school and scarring their wage prospects after they leave. They stand to face career challenges when they enter the workforce due to their limited compounded opportunities for digital literacy skills acquisition and development.

Consequently, it is common for young people from unconnected households with limited digital skills to be trapped by wage brackets from their first job.

“Digital Natives” are born with microchips in their thumbs.

It is erroneous and dangerous to believe the myth that Generation Z is born digitally literate. Without technology-embedded, skills-driven curricula in schools within a level playing field and consistent opportunities to develop those skills in the workforce, Generation Z may continue to approach technology-related tasks with less fear than previous generations. However, they will nevertheless be unable to effectively consume, produce, and innovate with technology because their digital skills will not have the sophistication jobs require.

Today’s labor market points to a workforce that is ill-prepared to join, compete, and endure the demands of jobs that present opportunities for higher wages and upward mobility. Nearly 100 million U.S. jobs require significant digital skills, and over 66% of jobs created in the last decade require moderate to high levels of digital skills. According to the National Skills Coalition, about 30% of U.S. workers lacked basic foundational digital literacy in 2020. In effect, the future of young people from disadvantaged homes lacks opportunity without a level digital inclusion playing field. In a job market where today’s employers expect candidates to prove they have already done the job they are hiring for and have years of experience to boot, it is a simplistic assumption to believe that motivation + skills = success.

“ business software platforms require specific know-how that is a far cry from the relatively little you need to know to navigate Netflix, Spotify, and smartphone interfaces.” -- Ryan Craig, Progressive Policy Institute

The current education system, including colleges and universities, is not set up to offer everyone equal opportunity. Moreover, continuing to perpetuate the myth that young people automatically possess the digital skills that translate to school success and high-wage paying future jobs will prevent us from examining what we teach and what that environment comparatively looks like across zip codes. Articulating what students should know and be able to do into real opportunities for supported learning, coaching, apprenticeships, and internships that include advanced digital skills is also vital. Generation Z will already find it difficult to do better than their parents, but ensuring home broadband access and reliable large-screen computing devices for people who need them, especially in households with school-age students and young adults, is a necessary and dire basic step.



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