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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Latinos and the Digital Divide

February 11, 2001|MARIO MATUTE | Mario Matute is director of the Pacoima Workforce Development Initiative. For more information, call (818) 897-8485

Although California's labor market continues to be strong, Latinos--who make up 31% of the state's working population--are being left behind by our technology-driven economy. Latinos lag behind in computer ownership and Internet access.

According to a U.S. Department of Commerce series, "Falling Through the Net," the "digital divide remains or has expanded slightly in some cases, even while Internet access and computer ownership are rising rapidly for almost all groups." The report summary says that "the Internet divide between Hispanic households and the national average rate was 17.9 percentage points in August 2000 (a 23.6% penetration rate for Hispanic households, compared to 41.5% for households nationally). That gap is 4.3 percentage points wider than the 13.6 percentage point gap that existed in December 1998."

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It's no secret that people with a lower level of income and a lower level of education have lower rates of computer usage. In California, Latinos make up the largest portion of the low-income population, according to the California Research Bureau. This means that it will be more difficult for these individuals to compete in our increasingly technical and global economy.

A recent study conducted by the California Center for Health Improvement shows that 74% of California workers use computers in their jobs, but only 54% of Latino workers. This study reveals that those most likely to have limited access or no access to computer technology are not just minorities but non-English-speaking people with low incomes and limited formal education.

Too often, we hear that American companies are in need of high-skill workers and that they have to recruit foreign workers to meet their labor needs. We should emphasize training here, in our own backyard, for these high-tech, high-skill jobs. We don't have a worker shortage in this country, but we do have a skills shortage.

Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in California and in other states, and with a growing gap between people who have access to technology. We need to enhance educational outcomes for low-income Latinos by using technology to link students, teachers and parents to create a complete learning environment in their neighborhoods.

In Pacoima, like many other Los Angeles communities, not only do we continue to have a high unemployment rate but also a serious deficit of skilled workers. As workers age, the manufacturing technology, information technology, health care and other industries need new and replacement workers with technical training.

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In March 2000, the Pacoima Workforce Development Initiative opened the doors to the first technology center in Pacoima, where we train individuals in various computer applications including Internet use and Web page design, Power Point, and the new Linux operation system. About 85 people are attending the various classes Monday through Friday.

A coordinated strategy is needed for preparing younger Latinos, in particular those from low-income backgrounds. It is time that we all unite efforts to provide technology access and knowledge to low-income individuals so they can have the technological skills to compete in the high-tech world. It has to be an essential part of our strategy to ensure that all Americans have the skills necessary to win high-wage jobs in the new economy.

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