Digital Readiness (Part 1)

with Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

National Science and Technology

The nature of technology is ever-evolving. In the next few years, the launch of 5G wireless broadband is anticipated. How might this and other emerging technologies impact communities of color? Part 1 of a discussion with Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  This discussion continues in part 2 (Digital Readiness).

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See a partial transcript of this interview below:

Traynham: According to a 2016 Pew report, only 12% of African-Americans and 13% of Latino adults called themselves “digitally ready,” compared to 65% of white adults. The nature of technology, as you know, is ever-evolving. In the next few years, the launch of 5G wireless broadband is anticipated. Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, joins me to discuss how this and other emerging technologies may impact communities of color. Spencer, welcome to the program.

Overton: Thanks, Robert.

Traynham: As I mentioned a few moments ago, that abysmal number of 12 or 13% of people of color call themselves “digitally literate.” What does that mean?

Overton: Yeah, so digital readiness is the ability to interact and engage in the digital world. So, going online, using different tools, applying for a job. So much of the world is online now, whether that´s with your mobile device, or at your desktop or your laptop, and being able to navigate that world.

Traynham: So, you heard what I said. 12 or 13% of people of color compared to 65% of our, their white counterparts. Huge, huge gulf in between. How do we fix that?

Overton: Well, certainly training, so that people are digitally ready, is important. Also, training for workforce, in terms of tech skills. So, part of this is just personal use, but part of it is also in terms of the workforce. So really making training available and accessible is certainly important.

Traynham: Spencer, it sounds like you´re talking about the economy of tomorrow. You could even make the argument, perhaps, it´s the economy of now.

Overton: Right.

Traynham: More and more jobs, regardless of whether or not it is engineering or math or science, or perhaps maybe even just a plumber or a cable installer, needs to be connected to the digital economy.

Overton: That´s absolutely right, Robert. And, you know, we talk about things like S.T.E.M., etcetera, and sometimes it seems like we´re talking about a PhD or something that is so far away, right? But people who just have a high school degree or even less really need to have these basic skills to move into the economy. I think it´s important to step back, Robert, and think about, the past is important, and we want to respect the gains that we’ve made in terms of communities of color in this country. But we also need to look forward and think about opportunities and challenges of the future and where are people of color going to be in the future.

Traynham: Spencer, before we talk about diversity with congressional staff, which I know is an important topic not only to you, but to me, as well, I want to talk about, how do we engage these communities of color when it comes to bridging that digital divide? Is it more resources into high schools? Is it more resources into historical black college universities? Is it raising the awareness in the community, or a combination of all those things and more?

Overton: Well, at the Joint Center,we certainly believe it´s,you know,all of the above plus, right?Part of this is us not looking at this as “tech in a bucket”and “criminal justice in a bucket”and all these things,but looking at this holistically,and looking at it through the lens of innovation.So, for example, as people of color, we can think about,”Well, you know, we want 13% of those plumbers jobs,or 13% of you know, very old,established jobs.”And that´s you know, there´s some value in that, right?But there´s also value in thinking about, where is the puck going to be? Where is the world moving? What does the world need,and how can we get in that space get in that space as minority contractors,move into that space as workers and people who have skills to play in that space.And not capping ourselves at 13% or 30%, but really going in and trying to, frankly,own a space and add value in that space.