The gap between high- and low-income households and computer ownership is quickly closing and should disappear by 2009, according to a new analysis released by the Employment Policy Foundation. As an upshot of these new home investments, skill and productivity in the workplace will increase. In addition, more American workers will have the ability to telecommute, providing them with the flexibility that is becoming increasingly important in the struggle to balance work and family.
EPF forecasts that between 2003 and 2007, 95 percent of those in the highest income quartile will own home computers, and between 2005 and 2009, the same penetration will occur for those in the lowest income quartile. Today, 41 percent of low-income households own a computer, compared to 81 percent in the high income group, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Growth in computer adoption in lower income households is nearly double that of the higher income bracket, showing that the "digital divide" is closing rapidly as technology becomes more affordable.
Households with computers today overwhelmingly have Internet access: 73 percent of lower income households have Internet access versus 87 percent of owners in the upper income bracket. By 2002, 68.2 million households (63 percent) in the U.S. will have at least one computer, and almost all (67 million) will also have Internet access. There will be no difference in home Internet access by household income by 2003, EPF forecasts.
There are also distinct geographic differences in the degree to which computer and Internet access is prevalent. Fifty-four percent of urban residents own a computer, versus 45 percent of persons living in towns of under 100,000 residents. Looking at computer ownership by state: Alaska has the highest number of computer owners at 67 percent of all households, followed by Utah (66.8 percent), New Hampshire (64.3 percent), Colorado (63.2 percent) and Oregon (61.2 percent). Arkansas ranked last in the nation in terms of household computer ownership at 38.5 percent, just above Mississippi (38.7 percent), Louisiana (42 percent), Oklahoma (42.1 percent) and West Virginia (43 percent). However, these gaps are closing rapidly as states with the lowest levels of computer ownership experience the highest growth.
Lower-income households use the Internet for slightly different purposes than those in upper-incomes. Forty percent of lower-income households use the Internet for research and learning - over twice the rate as those in upper-income households. The Internet has also become a valuable tool for job searching, with 19 percent of high-income and 13 percent of lower-income householders using it for this reason.
EPF estimates that nearly 40 percent or 53 million jobs can be done in full or in part by telecommuting on a regular basis, making the physical place of work less important.
"Households are making significant investments in their future through computer ownership and Internet access," said EPF President Ed Potter. "The closing of the digital divide has implications beyond the home: it will also affect the workplace by increasing skills as well as creating new opportunities for telecommuting."
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