Giving Compass' Take:

• Alexis Cherewka discusses the disproportionate digital divide impacting U.S. immigrant households which is especially damaging during online work and school due to the pandemic. 

• What role can you play in increasing access to devices and internet service that are essential, particularly in the pandemic?

• Read about the students missing their online classes

The internet is a critical component of modern life, and never has that been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic, where online connectivity has proven an essential lifeline to telework, distance learning, telemedicine, and relationships with relatives and friends. In the United States, 87 percent of adults said they considered the web to be important or essential for them during the outbreak. Yet neither access to the internet nor vulnerability to the coronavirus are spread equally. Immigrants are over-represented in frontline pandemic-response occupations such as doctors, home health aides, and grocery store workers, leaving them more exposed to the disease. Meanwhile, the foreign born also make up a disproportionately large share of groups with lower levels of digital skills. As such, questions surrounding digital inclusion and a push for digital equity have come to the fore, especially for populations that have been disproportionately hit during this public-health crisis.

In the United States, 36 percent of native-born, native-language adults were at higher levels of proficiency solving problems in digital environments or using digital tools as of 2015, compared to just 12 percent of U.S. residents who are foreign born and speak a language other than English, according to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) study run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The proportion of U.S. adults with no computer experience is also much higher for immigrants who speak a language other than English in the home, PIAAC found, at almost 21 percent compared to approximately 5 percent for English speakers. The situation in the United States is part of a global trend and is similar to that of other countries with similar proportions of immigrants, such as Germany and Canada. Across OECD countries, which are high-income economies, native-born adults who speak the native language have higher levels of proficiency with digital problem-solving than do immigrants.

This article outlines available data on immigrants’ digital access and digital literacy skills in the United States and examines the essential nature of these digital tools and experience with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full article about the digital divide for U.S. immigrant households by Alexis Cherewka at Migration Policy Institute.