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PEW: 25% of seniors age 65+ are not online. That's a problem.

Pew Research just published its periodic survey about Internet use. Let’s assume consensus that growing the percentage of those using the Internet was a social good. Let’s assume that many are now concerned that older adults may have missed vaccine sign-up opportunities without access to the Internet.  Pew’s survey categories included: Age, Rural/Urban, Male-Female, Income, Race, and Education.  The result is pretty much ho-hum – if you look only at the headline – 7% of Americans Don’t use the Internet.  Let’s say that 77% of the American population are adults (using Census data). Translating the Pew number to non-users of the Internet  results in nearly 23 million people.  Not a trivial number.  Too bad there were no correlations between Age, Education, Income with Internet use.  But we can guess what we could find.

In other surveys – it’s been bleakly similar.  Early this year OATS/Humana Foundation cited 22 million people as lacking wireline broadband – or 42% of the population aged 65+.  That was built on 2020 US Census estimates.  So it would not be guessing to assume that those lacking broadband access are 100% overlapped with the Pew non-users of the Internet.  And AARP cited the OATS/Humana data, but also noted Pew data about broadband indicated that fewer than 3 in 5 people aged 65+ had broadband at home.  

What could one do to dramatically improve survey future results?  Remember the cliché – one can’t manage what one doesn’t measure. Perhaps finding ways to promote Internet access and then measure whether those promotions succeeded.  So how about doing more frequent granular surveys – down to the state, county level? Like the American Community Survey?  That has Internet subscriptions (Humana broadband number perhaps?) but only updated through 2019.  AARP surveys annually as does Pew.  But as one can imagine in the time of Covid-19, much can change in a year. 

How about meeting Internet non-users where they might be.  It’s easy to find an article about the Impact of the Internet on News Media.   But how about the reverse – the Impact of News Media on Internet Access? Digital Literacy campaigns have previously focused on younger people. Instead, local TV stations could run nationally funded (or AARP-funded) promotions about a number to call to obtain must-have discounted Internet access. Local newspapers could feature ads funded by state governments or agencies.  All ads would feature blaring messaging that “Operators are Standing By” – encouraging immediate responses to these digital literacy campaigns.  Crazy, huh?


 Beyond a lack of access to social media, older adults who aren't wired can be challenged to access government programs. Agencies such as Social Security Administration, CMS/Medicare, and State Medicaid programs increasingly direct beneficiaries to set up online accounts to track benefits. As a SHINE/Florida SHIP counselor, I come across many clients who don't have computers or email addresses and rely on community volunteers or partner agencies to help them navigate complex systems like healthcare.

A easy to use interface like a TV would make it easy for all to come online.

It's a significant problem, even more so in a pandemic, where hashtag#seniors need access to myriad resources and opportunities for engagement, given the increased risks isolation pose, and why I support organizations like the SF Tech Council.

Senior Community Centers have programs for these online resources...(not in all areas).


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