US inequality has been rising for decades, but it gained political prominence after the Great Recession gave rise to grassroots movements like Occupy Wall Street, forcing both political parties to start openly debating the issue.
Unfortunately, the two major US political parties appear largely unable to agree, both within themselves and between one another, on the best solution to the problem.
Given that impasse, equal access to basic technologies seems like a fairly low-hanging fruit.
The Pew Research Center highlighted persistent inequities in access to basic technologies in a recent report, which found nearly half of US households with incomes below $US30,000 a year do not have access to high-speed internet at home, while nearly one third do not own a smartphone. This makes it even harder for poorer families to catch up financially and professionally.
With new computers and automation increasingly permeating not only manufacturing but also services, those with less familiarity with or access to the Internet, computers, and smartphones are left at a considerable disadvantage.
“Higher-income Americans are more likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online,” Monica Anderson, a research associate at Pew, wrote in the report.
Two-thirds of adults living in high-earning households have high-speed web access at home, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer, and a tablet, compared with 17% of those living in low-income households.
“Adoption rates are only one component of the digital divide,” Pew said. “A person’s comfort level with technology and the rate in which they use the internet at work and in their everyday lives also varies by income group.”
So how should the United States address the issue of technological inequality? Early intervention is the key, experts say. That means giving kids from lower-income households ample access to connectivity and devices, even if it means direct subsidies to poorer and/or more remote areas.
“A more inclusive approach to innovation that democratizes emerging technologies and expands opportunities gaining new skills early in life should be part of the new social contract on innovation,” Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Business Insider in an email.
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