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Connect the dots between broadband access and jobs

  • Written by NNPA News Service

by Marc H. Morial
NNPA News Service

An after school and summer camp STEM Academy run by the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga has increased students' proficiency in both math and reading by 32 percent. In Central Florida, 70 percent to 80 percent of students who enter the local Urban League's Center for Workforce Innovation Job Training Program graduate with a job at the end of the program.

These rare success stories demonstrate that we know what works in the critical effort to increase broadband access and digital literacy throughout America. But these stories take that goal one step further. With broadband access much too low and joblessness much too high in communities of color, these Urban League programs make the powerful link between broadband access and jobs.

It's not enough to place the Internet at everyone's fingertips, we believe that real progress will only occur if the digital divide is closed in a way that enhances employment opportunities for communities hardest hit by the recession and the jobless recovery of the last few decades. Last week, the National Urban League's Policy Institute in partnership with Time Warner Cable, highlighted that reality with the release of a report titled, "Connecting the Dots: Linking Broadband Adoption to Job Creation and Job Competitiveness."

The report reveals that while the gap is narrowing, the broadband adoption rate in African-American households is still only 56 percent compared with 67 percent for whites. The rate of broadband access for African Americans without a high school degree is 38 percent, while 51 percent of whites in that same category are online at home.

With almost all major companies now posting job openings exclusively online, 77 percent of African Americans without high school diplomas used the Internet to look for a job during 2009-10. Clearly, we must target low-income communities in our efforts to expand access to both broadband and jobs. We applaud efforts such as the FCC's "Connect to Compete" program that is offering low-cost broadband connections in low-income communities. But more must be done....

We recommend:

Creating workforce training in broadband sectors that incorporate job placement – like the successful Central Florida Workforce Innovation Job Training program.

Increasing broadband businesses in economically hard hit areas. Strategies might include fast-tracking approvals for broadband businesses that are willing to move into hard-hit areas and the kind of hands on management support for start-up businesses that is being offered at the nine National Urban League Entrepreneurship.

Modernizing the education pipeline as a long-term solution. We need more STEM academies such as the one being run by the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.

(NNPA columnist Marc H. Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.)

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