Platforms for jobs, government and other services are increasingly moving online, but 30 percent of Americans lack an Internet connection to access to those resources, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report.
"It may be surprising to some people, because a lot of people think everyone has a computer, everyone has Internet at home, everyone knows how, and that's not true," said Annette Vigil, manager of South Mountain Community Library in Phoenix, Ariz.
The lack of access is particularly common for seniors, with about 54 percent of Americans 65 and older having no Internet access. That makes computers and computer classes at libraries and senior centers "really popular," according to Vigil, whose library offers free computer classes weekly.
South Mountain's experience is not unusual, said Kathryn Zickuhr, an analyst from the Pew Research Center, which has reported on the digital divide. "When seniors or other people who don't use the Internet very much need to go online, to access government forms that are now online-only, they go to libraries for help," Zickuhr said.
The census survey described a "connectivity continuum" that ranged from people with no computer or Internet access at home, to those who have multiple devices to access the Internet. Nationally, 15.9 percent of people had no home computer and another 14.4 percent had a computer but no Internet access in 2011 — the year profiled in the report. On the other end of the spectrum, 37.3 percent of Americans were "highly connected," with access from home and elsewhere.
Men and women were about even in terms of access, while Asians and Caucasians had higher levels of connectivity than African-Americans and Hispanics.
Greta Byrum, an analyst from the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation, said it is essential that "people from all walks of life have access to the Internet and digital resources."
"This should be a leading policy priority and a focus of investment," Byrum said.
Vigil agreed that it is important for citizens to get online, because it is "the way the world is now."
"The world has changed from 10 years ago," Vigil said. "You can't apply for jobs anymore unless you know how to get on the Internet."
That's where libraries and other facilities come in. "There are many people in our community who don't have computers at home and don't know how to use them, so it's very important that they have a place that they can come learn the basics and practice," Vigil said.