Years ago, when people talked about the “Digital Divide,” they meant that the less wealthy lacked access to broadband and other digital technologies. Now, that digital divide – which still exists – has broadened into a chasm that threatens to engulf our entire society.
In many ways technology has become similar to a new Wall Street: a massive engine of wealth accumulation for the few, at the expense of the many. And while presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders energetically debate how to regulate the old Wall Street, they’ve mostly ignored the new one. That’s a mistake.
The icon of technology that gets much attention is Silicon Valley and its ongoing diversity problems. But in 2014, a number of major tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple, all reported startlingly weak diversity figures. Facebook for example, reported that 15% of its tech workforce was female, 3% was Latino and just 1% was African American.
The higher you go into company management and executive levels, the worse these gaps tend to get. This now appears to have become a trend, either for people of color or for women, who continue to suffer from a serious gender gap. Astonishingly, highly visible Apple management recently opposed a fairly mild shareholder resolution calling on the company to boost its diversity.
But the problem goes well beyond diversity in employment. Technology has the power to transform lives and communities, but – as a high-powered group of academic, business and technology leaders recently declared in an Open Letter on the Digital Economy – “the benefits of this technological surge have been very uneven.”
They explain, “The majority of U.S. households have seen little if any income growth for over 20 years, the percentage of national income that’s paid out in wages has declined sharply in the U.S. since 2000, and the American middle class, which is one of our country’s great creations, is being hollowed out. Outsourcing and offshoring have contributed to these phenomena, but … the recent wave of globalization is itself reliant on advances in information and communication technologies.”
The technology boom as actually increased this growing divide. Silicon Valley Rising notes, “A third of the population in the most prosperous region in America struggles to make ends meet. For every tech job created in the Silicon Valley, four service jobs are needed to support it.” Too often, those jobs pay minimum wage or just slightly more – not nearly enough to cover a family’s food, rent and utilities in a region where the price of everything, especially housing, keeps skyrocketing.
Affordable housing for the tech workforce has become a crucial problem. Many more jobs are created in Silicon Valley than there are homes built, sending housing prices far out of reach of most workers. As a result, cities with a growing tech workforce are also some of the fastest gentrifying (redeveloping) cities in the U.S. – and not just in Silicon Valley or San Francisco Bay areas. Cities like Denver with a growing tech workforce feels the same pressures. And again, with few exceptions (Cisco has invested in a housing trust fund in the Silicon Valley, while some tech leaders backed a San Francisco housing bond). Tech companies have mostly been missing in action when it comes to developing affordable workforce housing.
These are just a few of the economic equity issues the technology boom raises. Business and political leaders in California and nationwide, including the presidential candidates, need to address this issue and champion solutions to this 21st century economic crisis. We must go beyond just “diversity in tech” and have robust discussions about how the technology boom can be harnessed to produce real economic equity, in Silicon Valley and across the country.
Read Article (Orson Aguilar | huffingtonpost.com | 02/25/2016)
At the exponential rate that technology is advancing in the 21st century, it is inevitable that there will come a day when even millennials will be unfamiliar with the latest technology.
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