Closing the Digital Divide for Latino Communities
with Diego Deleersnyder of the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program
Latinos and other underserved communities are disproportionately impacted by a lack of digital access.
Diego Deleersnyder, Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, joins host Liliana Henao Holmes to discuss efforts to increase awareness about federal benefits, which are available to help connect more low-income households.
September 01, 2023
Henao Holmes: Digital skills are required in 92% of jobs in the United States, according to the National Skills Coalition. However, more than half of working-age Latinos have little to no digital skills. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Liliana Henao Holmes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress approved the Affordable Connectivity Program to address the digital divide in Latino and other underserved communities. The program provides discounts on monthly Internet service and device purchases, but more than 60% of eligible households have yet to sign up. Joining me to discuss this issue is Diego Deleersnyder, Associate Director at the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, which is working to educate the public about the importance of digital equity and this federally funded connectivity program. Diego, thank you for your time today.
Deleersnyder: Hello, Liliana. Thank you so much for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be here.
Henao Holmes: So let's talk about this digital divide that's affecting the Latino community still. What has your research found about the issue?
Deleersnyder: So what we identified is that, of course, Latinos are growing their importance in the labor market. We already represent one out of five workers in the U.S.. However, we still have some challenges ahead in terms of access to digital opportunities that can fuel our productivity and take us to the next level. So, for instance, Latinos are still lagging behind in terms of access to broadband Internet services at home. We are 3% below the US average, according to data from the American Community Survey in 2018. In terms of access to digital devices, we are 10% below the US average. But most importantly, as you mentioned before, the largest gap we identified is in terms of digital skills. So the gap there is 26% below the US average. So digital skills are essential nowadays to make sure that our households are able to access educational opportunities through the Internet, telehealth appointments, e-commerce services, citizen services. There is a plethora of services that nowadays are available digitally and that do not require us to be in person. But if we don't have the digital skills to maximize them, they are of little use. So for the future prosperity of the US as a whole and for the advancement of economic opportunities in our community, it's crucial that Latinos have access to these tools.
Henao Holmes: This lack of digital skills, how is it affecting Latino families and the Latino community as a whole?
Deleersnyder: Well, there is another report from 2021 by McKinsey & Company that identified that Latinos are the demographic most at risk of job displacement in the US because of the digitalization of the economy. Latinos are overrepresented in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, hospitality, commerce, and in those industries in particular, we are seeing huge transformations because of technology. As you probably saw during the pandemic, many supermarkets have been replacing cashiers with totems where people can self check out. That means that the people who are working at that supermarket will find it more difficult to find a similar position in other supermarkets because it's an industry-wide transformation. So we want to make sure that Latinos have access to training to ensure that they are able to successfully transition into the new economy and find well-paid positions in these new sectors.
Henao Holmes: What is the Aspen Institute doing to try to bring solutions and close this digital gap?
Deleersnyder: So, our program basically leads a series of research projects to, first of all, understand the reality of our community across the country. The Latino community is extremely heterogeneous and diverse, so there is no one-size-fits-all solutions for our community. So first of all, is understanding and making sure that decision makers have a better sense of what our community needs and expects. Secondly, identifying some of the best practices that are being implemented across the country. There are great organizations on the ground doing amazing work for the community, so we want to showcase them and feature them and understand why those initiatives are successful, what are the secrets -- what is the secret sauce behind those initiatives? And third, we also want to promote peer learning and education across decision makers at the local and state level to connect with people who are in similar positions in other cities, in other states, understand what they could be adopting, what are the nuances, what are the differences? But basically our goal is to build the capacities at the local level to make sure that the leaders of the community have the right tools to support and advance our community.
Henao Holmes: Diego, we talked about the Affordable Connectivity Program. How can families sign up for this program?
Deleersnyder: Well, first of all, I recommend visiting getinternet.gov. That's the official website by the federal government to access this program. There you will find, first of all, all the information regarding the program, identify whether you are an eligible household or not. Basically, all households whose earnings are below the 200% federal poverty guidelines are eligible. Also, all the households that have right now programs such as SNAP or Medicaid are also eligible for this program. So in the website, you will find all the different requirements to access this program. Also, you will be able to identify what are the Internet service providers in your area that are in association with this discount program. And the website is also available in Spanish. So it's bilingual. It's both in English and in Spanish to make sure that Latinos' households all around the country can fully access the benefit.
Henao Holmes: Besides signing up for this program, what else can families do to stay up to part with this digital era?
Deleersnyder: Of course. Well, there are great organizations doing work all across the country. I particularly want to highlight organizations such as Goodwill Industries and Per Scholas. They provide digital skills, training opportunities to Latinos and other individuals across the country, and then they connect them with great job opportunities in the tech sector. The programs are between three to six months, so they are relatively short. They don't require university degrees, college degrees. So the idea here is to make sure that everyone has better economic opportunities through the access of digital skills training. I also recommend the local libraries as a resource. They normally have a lot of digital equity resources. They normally have as well free Wi-Fi, computers available to the public. So they are a great have for the community to access some of these digital resources.
Henao Holmes: Diego, if someone wants to find out more information about the programs at the Aspen Institute, where can they go?
Deleersnyder: Yes, they can visit our website, aspenlatinos.org -- O-R-G. And there they will find all the updated information about our research projects, our reports, our convenings. We have a series of events open to the public, and we have some regional presence. We work with seven cities across the US that have large Latino communities, including Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, El Paso, San Antonio, Phoenix and San Bernardino. So we have a great network of partners in those cities, and they are collaborating us in getting this message out there.
Henao Holmes: Diego Deleersnyder with the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, thank you so much for your time today.
Deleersnyder: Thank you, Liliana.
Henao Holmes: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Liliana Henao Holmes.