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Computer Access in the Inland Empire Divided Along Color Lines


Computer Access in the Inland Empire Divided Along Color Lines

(July 8, 1999)

Computer Access in the Inland Empire Divided Along Color Lines

Latino households in the Inland Empire have the lowest rates of computer ownership, according to data gathered as part of the Inland Empire Annual Survey for 1998-99, a joint project between the University of California, Riverside and the California State University, San Bernardino.

Asian households are the most likely to have a home computer, the survey said.

This "digital divide" in the Inland Empire reflects differences in disposable income, education levels and cultural expectations, according to Max Neiman, director of UCR's Center for Social and Behavioral Science Research. He said he found the results alarming.

"If computers were just toys, it wouldn't matter so much," Neiman said. "But computers are increasingly the gateway to school research, test preparation, news, discounts on goods and services and other aspects of life."

The report, called "Unequal Patterns of Cyber Access in the Inland Empire," shows that 83.7 percent of the Asians surveyed in the Inland Empire have home computers compared to 65.9 percent for Caucasians; 60.5 percent for African-Americans and 41 percent for Latinos.

The report shows a close correlation between rising income and education levels and higher rates of computer ownership. However, gender, ethnic background and age still play important roles. For instance, Asian families own computers at higher rates than would be expected by income and level of education; Latino families own computers at lower rates than would be expected. "It's apparent that there are cultural factors at work, but what they are is beyond the scope of this report," said Neiman.

Men tend to use the computer more than women, especially in families earning more than $50,000 per year, according to the survey results. Computer ownership is most prevalent in the age group between 36 and 45 and least prevalent among those age 66 and older.

Just 38.5 percent of the respondents who had a computer reported purchasing goods and services on-line with a credit card, Neiman said, indicating that most Inland Empire computer users have not yet begun to shop on-line. More than half of those surveyed, however, report looking up information about a product on-line, even if they don't purchase it there.

The report was requested by UCR's Center for Virtual Research. Richard Chabran, the director of that center, said the results underscore a real danger for low-income families, especially for Latinos.

"Unequal access to the Internet has the potential to generate new and harden old sources of inequalities in American life," Chabran said.

He noted that even among those who report having a home computer, about 30 percent of those are old enough to be little more advanced than an electric typewriter, without the speed and power needed for true interactive use. "These households tend to be primarily poorer, minority, disadvantaged and isolated."

Chabran and others are already taking steps to address the digital divide. He is the director of the California Digital Initiative, which provides a computer lab to youth and adults on Riverside's Eastside. In addition, the Riverside Public Library operates the "Eastside Cybrary" to give Internet access and computer access to children ages 10-14 and their families. These efforts are helping, Chabran said. "But because of the dramatic nature of the problem, more needs to be done."

These regional trends are similar to those being reported for the nation. "Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide," a report released July 8th by the federal government, shows that African-American and Latino households are approximately one-half as likely to own a computer as white households nationwide.

"The disturbing news is that a significant portion of Americans still lack access to vital information tools," said Larry Irving, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, National Telecommunications and Information Administration. "Computer and Internet access varies widely based on such factors as income, education, race, and geography." Even more disturbing, Irving said, is that between 1997 and 1998, the gap in household access to the Internet between African-Americans and whites, and between Latinos and whites, grew approximately six percentage points. That report is available on the Web at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/digitaldivide/index.html

The Inland Empire Annual Survey, conducted in February, is based on telephone surveys of 2,100 residents in Riverside and San Bernardino counties about their views on a variety of topics. It was sponsored by the Riverside Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Government, Inland Empire Economic Partnership, IKON Office Solutions, The San Bernardino Sun, Arrowhead Credit Union and The Gas Company, UCR Ernesto Galarza Research Bureau, UCR Center for Virtual Research. The survey was also supported by a grant from the California Wellness Foundation and Pacific Bell.


The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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