Digital divide leaving immigrants further behind, UC Santa Cruz study finds

The digital divide between immigrants and the native born is widening in the United States, with some immigrant groups less than half as likely to have computer access at home as nonimmigrants, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Only 36 percent of Latino immigrant youth have a computer at home, compared with 77 percent of U.S.-born non-Latino youth, according to the new report, "Crossing the Divide: Immigrant Youth and Digital Disparity in California." The report is available online at

Overall, 70 percent of native-born individuals had access to a computer at home in 2003, compared with 56 percent of those living in immigrant households, a wider gap than existed in 1997, when the figures were 43 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

"If we want immigrants to become full participants in the labor force and in society, it's imperative that we bridge this gap," said study author Rebecca London, an associate research professor with UCSC's Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community (CJTC).

The findings have serious policy implications for California and other states with high concentrations of immigrants, added London. Nationwide, nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2005 was foreign-born and 23 percent of those aged 5 to 25 were immigrants or the children of immigrants.

"In California, more than half of the young people are immigrants or the children of immigrants," she said. "If they are unable to fully participate in the new information and communications systems, opportunities will pass them by and current disadvantages will be translated into long-term second-tier status."

The report, issued jointly this month by the CJTC and the Community Technology Foundation of California, also documented gaps between immigrants and nonimmigrants in rates of Internet access and high-speed Internet access. The authors identify strategies to help bridge the digital divide, including tax breaks, financial incentives, and support for community-based technology centers (CTCs), and highlight the value of such centers in expanding opportunities for youth to access computers outside of school and home.

Among other highlights:

. Within ethnic groups in California, immigrant Latinos have home computer rates that are 15 percentage points lower than native-born Latinos. Among Asians, the differences are much smaller; both immigrant and nonimmigrant Asians have higher rates of computer ownership, Internet access, and broadband access than native-born whites/others.

. Differences in education and income emerged as the two largest factors contributing to the disparity in rates of computer ownership, but the researchers also identified differences in the desire to own a computer as an important factor. "Immigrant adults tend to work in occupations that are less dependent on technology, and although their children may be clamoring for a computer, the adults may not make it a priority," said London.

Just as access to school, safe neighborhoods, and jobs were critical to the success of previous generations of immigrants, access to technology today is the key to full participation in the global economy, said London. "If we want to promote an equal shot at success, we need public policies that can bring all youth into the new digital age," she said.

The authors identify three strategies to help bridge the growing digital divide between immigrants and nonimmigrants:

. Expand Individual Development Account (IDA) programs to encourage computer purchases. Under current programs, savings by the poor are matched by public or private sources to encourage home ownership, postsecondary education, or business start-ups.

. Create tax deductions so working families could write off the cost of computers and Internet service for educational purposes.

. Expand programs that provide laptops to schoolchildren, and offer low-cost refurbished computers for school and student use, including at home.

"Crossing the Divide" was coauthored by London; Robert W. Fairlie, associate professor of economics at UCSC; Manuel Pastor, professor of Latin American and Latino studies and codirector of the CJTC; and Rachel Rosner, a research associate with CJTC. The research and publication were made possible by grants from the Community Partnership Committee through its Applied Research Initiative on access to telecommunications services in California's underserved communities, with support from the Community Technology Foundation of California and the William T. Grant Foundation. The Community Partnership Committee was formed by eight coalitions of 134 community-based organizations and SBC (now AT&T), to serve underserved communities throughout California after the SBC/Pacific Telesis merger in 1997.


Note to Journalists: Rebecca London may be reached at (831) 459-1343 or via e-mail at