Digital Charlotte: A Case Study of the Relationship between Digital Inclusion and Economic Mobility
35 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2016 Last revised: 1 Sep 2016
Date Written: March 31, 2016
The ability to access online communication touches almost every institution and industry the American public interacts with including education, healthcare, social services, government, and news media. In fact, economic mobility (or the lack thereof) is a common theme in this year’s presidential campaign, yet the discussion often ignores the importance of affordable Internet access and digital skills for financial and social stability in favor of securing employment. The gap between those that can afford high-speed, at-home, online access (and possess the critical skills to navigate digital environments (Hobbs, 2010)) impacts virtually every aspect of one’s life, but the digital divide is often overlooked in these discussions. This omission contributes to the increasing disparity between the digital — and economic — “haves” and “have nots.”
In this paper, using Charlotte, North Carolina as the case study, we pose the question: what is the relationship between upward economic mobility and the digital divide? Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States by population (Wilson, 2015) and recently formed a city-wide “digital inclusion taskforce” (comprised of organizations, civic and business leaders, academics, and local politicians). The taskforce worked to ensure that Google’s forthcoming fiber rollout includes neighborhoods affected by the digital divide. Using multiple data sets, we analyze and map the relationship between economic mobility and the digital divide in Charlotte. The first data set is from a recent report by Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Charlotte ranked 49th out of 50 cities in potential upward mobility for residents earning a median income within the bottom 25th percentile. Among the 100 largest counties in the U.S. by population, Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte resides) ranked 100 out of 100 for potential upward mobility among residents in the bottom 25th percentile for median income (Chetty & Hendren, 2015). The second data set is Charlotte’s Digital and Media Literacy Index (DML). This large-scale city-wide survey (MarketWise, Inc., 2012) mapped local residents' digital and media literacy.
Based on our initial analyses, some of the residents with the lowest digital and media literacy scores also live in the most economically disadvantaged areas. A deeper and more comprehensive look into this relationship provides a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between digital inclusion and economic mobility. Further unpacking this issue will allow us to propose a set of policy recommendations for the city and county to pursue in developing economic and digital opportunities for all citizens, but specifically ones geared towards the depressed areas of the city and county. Preliminary recommendations include the following:
1) DML resources within a geographic area need to be considered when deploying a new social service. 2) Citizens from economically depressed areas will continue to be further removed from the economy without a supportive DML infrastructure. 3) Simply having broadband access is not sufficient in making sure citizens can use digital tools. 4) Economic mobility initiatives need to consider the availability of high speed Internet, the tools to access them, and the training in using them. References
Chetty, R., & Hendren, N. (2015). The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects and County-Level Estimates. Retrieved from http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/nbhds_paper.pdf
Hobbs, R. (2010). Digital and media literacy: a plan of action : a white paper on the digital and media literacy recommendations of the Knight Commission on the information needs of communities in a democracy. Washington, D.C.: Aspen Institute.
MarketWise, Inc. (2012). Knight School of Communication 2012 Digital and Media Literacy Survey of Adults in Mecklenburg County, NC Final Report (p. 76). Charlotte, NC: Knight School of Communication.
Wilson, J. (2015, March 5). Charlotte ranks No. 2 among fastest-growing large cities, new U.S. Census report shows. Charlotte Business Journal.
Keywords: Digital Inclusion, Digital and Media Literacy, Case Study, Digital Divide
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation