American workers want the federal government to support computer literacy programs in high schools to minimize the so-called “digital divide” between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who don’t, according to a poll released Feb. 10.
The poll found that a majority of workers use a computer every day and have access to one at home. About 80 percent of those polled said they support computer literacy programs in high school.
“Americans seem to be interested in a proactive government, especially with respect to education,” said Carl E. Van Horn, a Rutgers University professor and co-director of the study. “They say the federal government should require people to have computer literacy upon graduation from high school, and they very strongly support the government assisting in education and the extension of computer access and training to lower-income areas.”
Entitled “Nothing But ‘Net: American Workers and the Information Economy,” the poll was conducted by Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the University of Connecticut’s Center for Survey Research and Analysis.
The researchers interviewed 1,005 working adults by telephone from Jan. 5 to Jan. 19. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The study divided computer users into several groups depending on how often they used a computer, terming those who use computers daily for many purposes “technophiles” and people with no access to computers “exiles.”
Most “technophiles” were in their 20s and 30s, white, college-educated, earning more than $40,000 and working for a large company, the study found. “Exiles” tended to be over 50, black, earning less than $40,000 and working for a small company, the study found.
“There’s a big socioeconomic difference here,” Van Horn said. “The exiles want to be part of the [digital] economy, but they’re not. They don’t have the skills needed, therefore they’re being left out. That means if you don’t have those skills, you’re relegated to low-paying jobs.”
Nearly eight in 10 respondents said they believed information technology was good for the economy, a departure from the 1950s and 1960s when workers feared technological advances would replace them on the job, Van Horn said.
The use of computers at work has become commonplace, the study found. Sixty-eight percent of workers use a computer every day.
The poll found that 23 percent of workers said they learned to use a computer at work; 26 percent said they learned at school. But the majority of American workers said they taught themselves or learned from a friend, the poll found.
In addition, there are more employees who would like to telecommute from home than there are employers who allow it, according to the poll.
About four in 10 workers said they could perform their jobs from home as a telecommuter, yet only 16 percent of employers offer this option, the study said. Sixty-one percent of workers said they would like to participate in online education, but only 26 percent had participated in such programs, the study found.
“People would like to be more involved in digital education and telecommuting. And the digital exiles are feeling left behind and left out because they know this is an information age and economy,” Van Horn said.
But there is a downside to technology that enables more people to work from home, he noted.
“When you have information on a 24-by-7 basis, it does create the potential for people never being away from work,” Van Horn said. “Those are important public and private issues that we’re going to have to grapple with.”
John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development
University of Connecticut