Why are Older Americans a "Covered Population"?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Digital Beat

Why are Older Americans a "Covered Population"?

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Digital Equity Act recognizes eight “covered populations” as disproportionately experiencing digital inequity. These groups are to be a focus of efforts supported through grants and planning processes:

  1. Individuals living in households with incomes at or below 150 percent of the poverty line.
  2. Individuals 60 years of age or older.
  3. Veterans.
  4. Individuals with disabilities.
  5. Individuals with barriers to the English language (including English language learners and those with low literacy).
  6. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups.
  7. Individuals residing in rural areas.
  8. Individuals incarcerated in non-federal correctional facilities.

These groups experience difficulties accessing the internet for varied yet overlapping reasons. In this and upcoming articles, we look at data that explains why these populations are being targeted for digital equity efforts.

Older Adults

Researchers at the Humana Foundation and AARP’s Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) found that nearly half of older Americans live with technological barriers. And nearly 22 million American seniors do not have wireline broadband access at home. There are poignant correlations between digital disengagement and race, disability, health status, educational attainment, immigration status, rural residence, and, of course, income.

  • Among older Americans, the two strongest predictors of lack of broadband were low educational attainment (less than a high school degree) and income below $25,000. Both groups of people were more than ten times as likely to be offline at home as the reference categories for people with higher education or higher incomes, respectively.
  • Race was a significant factor as well. Black people were 2.6 times as likely to be offline, and Latinos were 3.4 times as likely to be offline, as White people.
  • Living in areas of high concentrations of poverty was associated with a 6.7 times higher likelihood of lacking home broadband, while living in Census tracts with over 50 percent Black Americans corresponded to a 3.7 times higher likelihood. Health status plays a role, with people reporting poor-to-middling health being over three times as likely to be offline, as well as people reporting functional impairment (twice as likely), frequent depressive symptoms (1.5 times as likely), and Medicaid enrollment (2.7 times as likely).
  • Household composition and place of residence are important factors. Older adults who are single (2.7 times as likely) or live in rural areas (1.6 times as likely) have elevated odds of lacking home internet service.

Researchers have found that insufficient practical training in technology use and the attendant difficulty in using computers both contribute to these disparities. Furthermore, ageism reduces self-efficacy for technology use, further reducing confidence in one’s ability to use technology; physical and mental limitations can make technology harder to use; and people who did not grow up using technology may devalue the benefits and usefulness of these services, or see the barriers as greater than the benefits without intentional support and opportunities for benefit.

For more see:

  1. Humana Foundation and Older Adults Technology Service. AGINGconnected: Exposing the Hidden Connectivity Crisis for Older Adults. (2021) oats.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Aging-Connected-Exposing-the-Hidden-Connectivity-Crisis-for-Older-Adults.pdf
  2. Mubarak F, Suomi R. Elderly Forgotten? Digital Exclusion in the Information Age and the Rising Grey Digital Divide. INQUIRY: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision, and Financing. 2022;59. journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00469580221096272

An excerpt from Visions of Digital Equity (August 2023) available at www.benton.org/sites/default/files/VisionsDigitalEquity.pdf

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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