Combatting unemployment without broadband is “like fighting without a sword”

Overt he weekend, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a story on the digital divide in Detroit. It’s a story of extreme but it makes the case that broadband is an essential tool for finding a job (or better job) and getting yourself out of poverty. Here’s what they said…

Detroit’s unemployment rate declined to 11 percent in February from 13 percent last year and from 19 percent that same month in 2013, according to Michigan’s labor statistics office. But in neighborhoods like the 100 blocks that make up Hope Village, unemployment is more than double the city average, hovering around 40 percent in 2013, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau.

Those areas of Detroit are being left out for many reasons, including low education rates, poor transportation and fewer entry-level jobs. But the lack of Internet access, city officials and economists say, is also a crucial — and underappreciated — factor. The consequences appear in the daily grind of finding connectivity, with people unable to apply for jobs online, research new opportunities, connect with health insurance, get college financial aid or do homework.

“It’s like fighting without a sword,” said Deborah Fisher, director of the Hope Village Initiative, a nonprofit effort to improve social services in the neighborhood. “Broadband access is a challenge and a major factor in economic opportunity and employment here.”

The comments posted by Star Tribune readers are disheartening. The gist is “get a job and pay for internet.” But they’re turning this into a chicken and egg scenario when it really it’s giving a man a fishing pole. People need access to the internet to find a job…

Applications for Detroit’s summer jobs program for youth and young adults are taken only online. Most listings on Michigan’s biggest private and public jobs site require email, uploads of résumés and online tests. College financial aid, unemployment benefits and public food assistance programs have shifted to online systems as fewer government offices offer in-person or phone services.

“All basic research for jobs and the forms we use to apply for jobs is online,” said Jed Howbert, executive director for jobs and economic development in Detroit’s mayoral office. “Lack of broadband access is one of several obstacles to employment that we are systematically trying to take down.”
In Hope Village, half of the 5,700 residents live in poverty. Many are not getting basic digital literacy skills or access to educational resources for entry-level jobs, much less the growing number of jobs that require more tech skills and vocational certificates.

Sounds like they have their own version of Minnesota’s Computer Commuter bus that travels around town with computers and a wireless network, but at the article says access isn’t enough, people need the skills to be online too…

At least one small free network continues on the neighborhood’s outskirts. And the nonprofit Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. now regularly sends out a recreational vehicle equipped with Wi-Fi and computers to neighborhoods, including Hope Village.

Another effort by the Detroit Community Technology Project has helped bring free wireless hot spots to seven neighborhoods and is trying to reach more places. But being able to get online is only the first hurdle. People require training on how to use technology, and they need computers or other devices.

“You can’t just provide access and say you’re done,” said Diana J. Nucera, director of the community technology project.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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