Digital access – Racial gap tied to income

A new  study shows virtually no racial gap in access to technology among higher-income groups but a persistent racial divide among low-income households, The New York Times reports.

“Increasingly, it seems that the nation is actually facing a multitude of digital divides, not one limited to race or income or education,” the Times says.

A survey released last week by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government confirmed previous studies that found almost no racial divide among wealthier people, the Times says.

The study also found that of those who bought computers in the lat two years, about one-third are from low-income or minority groups.

The digital divide, the Times says, reflects not only computer ownership but the way in which people connect to the Internet.

Slower connections or connecting from work but not home can be a disadvantage, experts told the Times.

“There’s no way you can understand what it can do for you unless you use it,” Donna L. Hoffman, a professor of management at Vanderbilt University, told the Times, referring to the Internet.

“You have to try it, then you can see the meaning it can have in your own life,” she said.

People who connect to the Internet from outside the home, she said, can find it more difficult because of limits on how long they can use computers at work or in public places like libraries, or because of having to wait in line or because of a lack of privacy.

The National Public Radio survey found that among households of all income levels, 57 percent of whites under the age of 60 have Internet or e-mail access from home, compared with 38 percent of blacks.

In households with annual income of less than $30,000, 34 percent of whites have access from home, compared with 19 percent of blacks.

But the gap narrows when online access take place outside the home, particularly at work.

“The gap largely disappears everywhere except at home,” Molly Brodie, a Kaiser Foundation vice president who oversaw the National Public Radio survey, told the Times.

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