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U.S.: Tackling the Greatest Digital Divide
Source: nextgov.com
Source Date: Thursday, August 08, 2013
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: United States
Created: Aug 13, 2013

What’s the most persistent digital divide in America? It isn’t by race, income or educational attainment, studies show, but by age.
 
Just 56 percent of Americans over 65 are online, according to a May study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, compared with 83 percent of people aged 50 to 64, 92 percent of people 30 to 49 and 98 percent of 18-to-29 year olds. The 2013 study represented the first time the percentage of America’s online elderly tipped over the 50 percent mark.
 
The racial divide, by comparison, only runs from 76 percent of Hispanic Americans who are online to 85 percent of blacks and 86 percent of non-Hispanic whites, Pew found.
 
The divide measured by income is somewhat greater, from 76 percent of households that make less than $30,000 per year to 96 percent of households that make more than $75,000. The education divide comes closest to the age divide. About 59 percent of Americans who didn’t complete high school are online, Pew found, compared with 96 percent of college graduates.
 
The effects of this divide can be pernicious, said Tony Sarmiento, executive director of Senior Service America, a Washington-area nonprofit that works to increase Internet use among the elderly. Disconnected seniors are more likely to feel isolated and sink into depression, Sarmiento said, especially if they’re housebound by physical ailments or have lost much of their nondigital social circle to death, disease or dementia.
 
A 2009 report by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies found a 20 percent reduction in depression among seniors who are online compared with those who are not.
 
“We all end up paying for that in terms of older people needing more care because their health deteriorates,” Sarmiento said. “So being able to lessen that isolation online, not just with email but with Skype and things like that could have a tremendous impact.”
 
Retirees who need to return to the workforce because of reductions to their pensions are also finding it more difficult because job postings are increasingly only online, Sarmiento said. That’s not to mention the struggle of actually competing in the increasingly digital workforce.
 
This digital divide is even more exaggerated when it comes to mobile.
 
Only 18 percent of American seniors use smartphones, according to a Pew study released in June, compared with 55 percent of Americans aged 45 to 54, 69 percent of Americans 35 to 44 and about 80 percent of Americans 18 to 34.
 
A Pew study released Monday showed 43 percent of America’s online seniors use social media now. That’s more than triple the 13 percent who used those sites in 2009 but roughly half the 72 percent of total Americans who use social networking.
 
Nextgov spoke with Sarmiento Tuesday about why the digital divide persists among seniors, what it means and what government can and should be doing about it. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.

(By Joseph Marks)

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