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Closing the Digital Divide in Black America

Jan 18, 2023
Closing the digital divide in Black America

The digital divide was first recognized in the mid-1990s. Three decades later, due in part to long-standing economic inequity and the economics of broadband, it remains an impediment to inclusive economic growth, particularly in Black American communities. Approximately 40 percent of Black American households—as opposed to 28 percent of White American households—don’t have high-speed, fixed broadband. In dense urban areas such as Chicago and Baltimore, Black households are twice as likely as their White counterparts to lack a high-speed internet subscription. In the rural South, 38 percent of Black households don’t have broadband, compared with 23 percent of White households.

But broadband access is only part of a much bigger picture. Ensuring all Americans can fully participate in civic life and the digital economy requires afford­able subscriptions, internet-enabled devices, applications, digital skills, and high-quality technical support. For example, while smartphone and tablet penetration are approximately equal among White, Black, and Hispanic and Latino adults in the United States, only 69 percent of Black Americans and 67 percent of Hispanic Americans have desktop or laptop computers, compared with 80 percent of White Americans (Exhibit 1). A 2020 OECD survey found that roughly half of Black workers had the advanced or proficient digital skills needed to thrive in our increasingly tech-driven economy, compared with 77 percent of White workers.

Lower levels of digital readiness are both a conse­quence and an ongoing driver of large gaps in Black American representation in jobs that require digital skill sets. Although Black Americans comprise approximately 13 percent of all workers, they make up only 7.4 percent of digital workers.7

This lack of representation feeds racial income and wealth gaps. The median pay for tech jobs is more than twice that for all occupations, and digital and IT jobs are expected to grow by 13 percent through 2030—1.7 times the overall rate of job growth.8 To the extent that Black Americans can achieve greater participation in the digital workforce, such jobs could help close income and wealth gaps.

This article is a collaborative effort by Ayebea Darko, Danielle Hinton, John Horrigan, Blair Levin, Kunal Modi, and Todd Wintner, representing views from McKinsey’s Public Sector Practice.