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Digital Divides Are Closing

June 29, 2015

Blue and red fibre optical cablesLast week, the Pew Research Center released a report Internet adoption and the digital divide. This report is the 97th the center has released on this topic.

Overall, the news was pretty good. Today, 84 percent of Americans say they use the Internet, an eight-percentage point increase from just five years ago. According to Pew, “For some groups, especially young adults, those with high levels of education, and those in more affluent households, internet penetration is at full saturation levels.” (Emphasis added.) Internet use is rising for other groups too. Pew reports, “For other groups, such as older adults, those with less educational attainment, and those living in lower-income households, adoption has historically been lower but rising steadily, especially in recent years.”

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

  • 58 percent of senior citizens use the Internet while 96 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 do;
  • The class-related digital divide has “shrunk dramatically” in the last 15 years as the most significant growth in Internet use has occurred among Americans with lower incomes and lower levels of educational attainment;
    • For example, in 2000, just 34 percent of Americans in households earning less than $30,000 annually used the Internet, but today that number is 74 percent. For Americans in households with incomes above $75,000, the rate has increased from 81 percent to 97 percent.
    • Additionally, in 2000, just 19 percent of Americans with less than a high school degree used the Internet, but today that number is 66 percent. For Americans with a college degree, the rate has increased from 78 percent to 95 percent.
  • Racial gaps have narrowed significantly between white and African Americans and Hispanics: 78 percent of African Americans told Pew they use the Internet while 81 percent of Hispanics and 85 percent of whites did;
  • 78 percent of Americans living in rural areas said they use the Internet compared to 85 percent in urban areas; and
  • Men and women use the Internet at roughly the same rates.

While digital divides in the U.S. have not yet been completely erased, they are improving. One way communities can address the remaining divides is to educate residents about the importance of using the Internet. Too many Americans still think the Internet isn’t relevant to their lives. Local lawmakers must work to eliminate that myth.