In 2019, nearly five million people resided in what the telecommunications industry calls “digital deserts,” meaning that they did not have access to an internet service provider. Fast forward to 2020, and we’ve now seen the grave issue with these digital deserts: modern-day life requires internet access.
Millions of Americans are learning, connecting, and working from home. But, what happens when they don’t have those capabilities? The digital divide between rural and urban areas has never been wider. We now see large portions of our country that cannot perform the essential functions they need to support themselves—remote work, job searches, and professional development training, to name a few.
In this article, we’ll explore the necessity of internet connectivity in regards to rural unemployment.
The Issue with Rural Unemployment
As the pandemic took hold in April, one study found that 2.8 million rural residents were unemployed—a 1.8 million person increase from the month prior. For those who lost their jobs, this would mean applying for new positions, which is made much more difficult without internet access. Not to mention, a lack of connectivity makes unemployment applications, stimulus payments, and other assistance-related efforts more challenging as well.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, those without the internet might visit a coffee shop to surf the web on a mobile device, or they might visit the library to use a computer. The pandemic’s toll on in-person services and the ongoing threat of contracting COVID-19 has changed this dynamic, leaving rural residents with extremely limited options when applying for jobs. Additionally, if the person were to secure a job, one must then consider the online communication, training, and potential remote work that could follow.
The Shift to Remote Work
A shocking 42% of the country’s workforce is now working from home full-time. This number will likely continue to grow over time. As noted by Stanford Economist Richard Bloom, the shift to remote work will continue to increase for three reasons:
1. Fear of crowds in preparation for future pandemics
2. The investments that companies have now made in telecommuting technology
3. The end of the stigma surrounding work-from-home environments
While the country is busy shifting to remote work, where does that leave our rural residents who have limited access to the high-speed internet necessary to work from home or participate in job training?
Bloom added, “Only 65 percent of Americans reported having fast enough internet capacity to support workable video calls. The remaining 35 percent have such poor internet at home—or no internet—that it prevents effective telecommuting.” These percentages paint a grim picture, as many Americans make difficult decisions about their employment and how it aligns with protecting themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19.
The Solution: Creating Virtual Opportunities in Rural Areas
The desperate need for broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the United States is about more than the current health crisis—it’s about our country’s future. We can’t afford to leave our rural residents behind, especially as our world continues to become more virtual, even after the pandemic comes to a close.
United Communications is stepping in to connect Middle Tennessee. Our company has long been focused on providing rural residents in our area with the internet access they need to learn, grow, and thrive. With the ever-increasing need for telecommuting, distance learning, telehealth, and other internet-based activities, we are committed to helping our neighbors. That’s why we have publicly launched our mission to connect rural Middle Tennessee—Project UNITE. This platform brings together community, business, and government leaders to improve broadband infrastructure and offer high-speed internet to our rural neighbors. We are committed to improving our rural communities, and we hope that you’ll join us.
Learn more about Project UNITE.