Skip to main content

Four Out of Five Working Class Americans Own a Smartphone, Two-Thirds Own a Tablet

681895242_9ba4ab4ef4_bA new survey report crossed my desk on Monday which calls into question whether the digital divide is really as wide as survey reports from the Pew Research Center had lead us to believe.

In January the Joan Ganz Cooney Center published a report titled Opportunity for All (PDF). This report discusses the results of a survey which the Center conducted last year right around the same time that Pew was finding out that 68% of Americans owned a smartphone, only the Joan Ganz Cooney Center came up with a very different answer.

Rather than survey all Americans, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center focused on Americans earning below $65,000, with a strong emphasis on those near or below the poverty line. Of the 1,191 survey subjects:

  • 31% were families with incomes below the federal poverty level,
  • 42% were between 100–185% of poverty, and
  • 24% had incomes above 185% of poverty but below $65,000 a year

Remember on Sunday when I echoed an article which argued that the Open Books program might face problems with hardware limitations and internet access issues?

Well, this survey report suggests that the problems might not be as severe as we had thought. I’m still working my way through the report, but I thought the following chart might interest you:

jgcc tablet, smarpthone, computer penetration

You can find the chart on page ten of the report, and what it says is that 80% of the households in this survey had a smartphone, and 67% had a tablet.

Four out of five households had a computer, and 94% also had access to the internet. Yes, there are people who have internet access solely through their mobile device.

Most households (72%) had home internet access, but a strong minority (23%) were dependent on a mobile data plan (usually with a high cost and limited speed/capacity).

All of those stats are far higher than what the Pew Research Center reported based on their survey (don’t you just love conflicting survey reports). I can’t yet explain the difference.

While most low- and moderate-income families have some type of digital device and Internet access, the above data doesn’t tell the full story. Not all devices are created equal, and differing levels of internet access offer varying browsing experiences.

Over half of respondents reported that the internet ran to slowly, and a larger number (59%) made the same complaint about their computer. Nearly three in ten reported hitting the data limit on their mobile plan, and over a quarter said that they had trouble getting stuff done because too many people were sharing the computer. Twenty-one percent had a similar complaint about their smartphone, while a similar percentage reported having their home internet access or cellphone turned off due to lack of payment (20%, 24%).

You can find more details in the report (PDF), and on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center website.

image by Steve Parker


Similar Articles


fjtorres March 29, 2016 um 8:08 am

Remember the "free" phone data plans? The carriers are looking to phase them out but the two year contracts allow a lot of people to buy cellphones on installment.
Tablets? You’ve long been tracking the very low end of that market. Quality might be low but if that is all you can afford…
PCs are easy. Netbooks never really went away. And $300 PCs are a staple at WalMart and other stores. And since the things are fairly durable they are good for five to six years and more.
The working poor tend to find ways.

The real divide is broadband internet access and it’s not really a matter of pricing but of availability. Don’t forget that a good chunk of american poor are *rural* poor. There are entire swaths of inhabited landscape where wireless internet is the only "fast" internet and where dial-up is the prevalent mode.

If the two surveys differ, I’d be willing to bet the differences come from the phrasing of the surveys and the geographical distribution of the queried subjects. Even a small swing in the urban to rural ratio can skew the results significantly.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) March 30, 2016 um 9:22 pm

There are still plenty of government programs that pay for people to get a mobile phone or the internet or both, including a home phone. I know this because I just cancelled my current plan that included DSL and home phone. When they asked why I was cancelling, I said, "It’s too expensive. You people are overcharging by an arm and a leg." They immediately suggested I fill out an application for assistance, which they assured me was very easy to obtain for anyone who needed it. This same thing happened when I called to complain about my parent’s internet/phone plan–in a completely different state. The reality in both cases was that we had found cheaper service with another carrier–but that didn’t stop either company from FIRST suggesting the thing to do was apply for government assistance (and therefor remain on the more expensive plan without having to switch providers). I read your article the other day about open access and it doesn’t match what I’ve seen or heard. My library is fairly well-funded here near Austin and the library has kindles, ipads and nooks–that patrons can check out.
"OH, but it’s a big library I bet!" No, it’s not. And there are several smaller towns nearby, some with one room trailers that serve as libraries and some with no libraries at all. Those people can get reciprocal lending at my library or at Austin libraries. Texas libraries are not considered the "best funded" either because very little funding is provided by the state. Each city and/or county has to provide funds/raise money from local taxes. But there are grants available and there are reciprocal lending all over the state. The libraries have computers, ipads and wifi access.

I think access is much better than the first "study" implies. People may not be taking advantage of the programs, but libraries have them. If a small local library doesn’t have a particular service, there are often interlibrary loan systems, reciprocal lending/sharing, free wi-fi at every library I’ve been in and I’ve been in quite a few. I can check ebooks from the Houston library because I have a local card. I can read them in my library on any of the aforementioned devices that can be checked out, on a personal kindle, on a phone, on other devices. I can also check out audio books as well. I can actually access a lot of libraries in Texas, but I picked Houston as an example because it has a large selection.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) March 30, 2016 um 9:27 pm

Also my parents live 50 miles from rural rural. They have DSL at one of the slowest speeds. It gets the job done. I know a homeless guy from the area. He knows where to access free wifi all over the state–not only that–he is HOMELESS and owns a laptop and at various times has had a smartphone (this apparently varies by where he lives and whether he has money to pay for whatever plan at the moment. At other times he has a cell phone, but not necessarily a smart phone).

Scripta manent (VII) Recopilación semanal de artículos y fuentes – El blog de Bernat Ruiz April 5, 2016 um 10:58 am

[…] Four out of five working class americans own a smartphone, two thirds own a tablet […]

Write a Comment