Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 24, 2020

Kids with Internet: Inequitable Access to Technology (Table of the Week)

As we touched on the other day, broadband and access to technology is increasingly important for social, economic, and education connections. We know the pandemic is impacting education considerably, and many schools will have increased distance learning this fall, if not entirely so. In a recent presentation a question arose about digging into the data further on kids with and without broadband at home. This edition of the Graph Table of the Week does just that for the Portland tri-county area.

We know there are inequities regarding broadband and technology more broadly. When it comes to households with kids at home these inequities break down along two main dimensions: economic, and racial and ethnic. A larger share of lower-income household do not have high speed internet at home. And households headed by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are less likely to have high speed internet at home compared with their white, non-Hispanic neighbors. This is at least among low- and middle-income households. Households with incomes above $100,000 a year tend to have similar rates of high speed internet at home regardless of race or ethnicity.

A few notes and caveats with the data.

The breakdowns by race and ethnicity are based on the characteristics of the householder (formerly called the head of household, but is really about the adult who fills out the Census questions). As such it does not necessarily reflect how the kids identify, but is the best I can do relatively quickly.

There are sample size concerns, particularly as you slice the data to finer and finer levels. We know the Portland region is not especially diverse, so focusing on some racial or ethnic groups stratified by income likely yields estimates with larger margins of error. So take the particular percentages with a grain of salt, even as the overall patterns are likely correct.

Finally, one item that stood out to me with the standard Census tables on this subject is the impact of cellular only broadband connections. Statewide it was about 10% of households. I don’t know about you but I am both amazed and frustrated at my phone. I can do nearly everything I want on my phone, but at the same time the things I can’t do get me frustrated at times. As such, in the table above I only crunched numbers for high speed internet (cable modem, fiber optic, or DSL) as doing homework on a phone is likely less than ideal. Now, among Portland area households with kids, there are 12% that do not have high speed internet but do have cellular, bringing the percentage with neither down to almost zero (0.3%). Whether that is good enough I don’t know, even as we would expect it is not optimal for learning this fall.

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