Lack of Home Internet Service Puts Job Seekers at a Disadvantage

October 13, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The struggle that those with no home Internet service face when searching for jobs is only one aspect of the digital divide that exists in technologically advanced communities.

Job Hunting Without the Help of the Web

In an era when the process of hunting for employment “has gone almost completely online,” Steve Giegerich reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, those that don’t have computers or Internet access at home are at a grave disadvantage compared to those that do.

Gail Spencer, a 57-year-old woman that was laid off after working for 21 years in the hospitality industry, doesn’t have a computer in her home. Instead, she must travel to the nearest library or career center in order to access the Internet and follow up on her job applications. “[Employers] assume everyone has a computer,” she told the Post-Dispatch. It’s “an assumption that thrusts the impoverished job-hunters in the hole,” Giegerich writes.

As economist Russ Signorino explains to the Post-Dispatch, technology has become a “two-edged sword” that is “inadvertently making that [socioeconomic] distance even wider.” Computers and the Internet have greatly expanded the possibilities for job searching and increased access to job opportunities, but only for those that have continued access to these resources. People that can’t afford to have an Internet connection in their homes are at an immediate disadvantage, alienated from a line of communication that most employers prefer.

“Basically, the distance between the poor and the rich is just getting bigger,” Hiroshi Ono, an assistant professor of industrial sociology at Texas A&M, concludes.

Background: The digital divide

The concept of a “digital divide” generally refers to the “gap between those individuals and communities that have, and do not have, access to the information technologies that are transforming our lives,” Norris Dickard and Diana Schneider explain for Edutopia. Usually, the access to these resources, or lack thereof, depends on each household’s income.

A 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project illustrates the extent of this divide: Although 85 percents of American households with incomes exceeding $75,000 have broadband Internet service, only 53 percent of households with incomes between $20,000 and $30,000 have the service.

Reactions: How to bridge the gap?

Aaron Smith, a research specialist, believes that “smart phones” equipped with mobile Internet technology are the answer, the Post-Dispatch reports. These devices could “clos[e] some of the information gaps between upper and middle class and lower-income users,” Smith believes, provided that they are reasonably priced for lower-income buyers.

Others, however, believe the key to bridging the digital divide lies in offering flexible broadband rates depending on actual usage. In this scenario, people that use a larger amount of bandwidth would pay more than those who use less bandwidth, Matthew Lasar reports for Ars Technica. People that have less money to spend could purchase just enough broadband to meet their basic needs, without overspending. “[I]f you represent twenty percent of all broadband users and you're going to consume eighty percent of bandwidth,” Robert J. Shapiro, chairman of Sonecon, LLC, explains, “then economically you should, the most efficient result is, that you pay a little more.”

Related Topic: Internet access in Africa

In September, to exemplify the slow progress of Internet technology in Africa, a pigeon in South Africa carried a 4 GB memory stick 60 miles in one hour, eight minutes. The pigeon beat Telkom, South Africa’s largest Internet service provider, by a wide margin. Internet connections in South Africa may be slow but on the continent, many are lucky to have it at all. According to data from the Web site Internet World Stats, the percentage of the population in Africa that has access to Internet service is a mere 6.7 percent. The worldwide average, in contrast, is 24.7 percent.

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