Smartphone-only Internet users increase: Here's why that matters

Smartphone-only Internet users are on the rise, even as more Americans say a lack of high-speed Internet access would prove to be a barrier to a job hunt.

Eric Conover/Hazleton Standard-Speaker/AP
Cheyanne Smith, a sophomore at the Hazleton Area High School in Hazleton, Pa., uses a computer at the Pennsylvania Career Link booth to search for job opportunities. The majority of Americans say not having hi-speed internet access would hinder job searches.

The Internet is supposed to open hitherto undiscovered opportunities for individual achievement, but for those in a tight spot, inadequate Internet access could become just one more obstacle to finding a job.

Almost 70 percent of Americans say a lack of high-speed Internet would prove a "major disadvantage" in a job hunt, according to results of a Pew Research Center survey. The number of Americans who can access the Internet but not a high-speed connection, however, is growing.

The number households with wired broadband connections has dropped from 70 percent in 2013 to 67 percent, which is the same percentage as 2012. That's not a big change, but it could signal the beginning of a bigger shift, especially in conjunction with an increase in the number of smartphone-only adults from 8 percent in 2013 to 13 percent.

Some of this could be the rise in smartphone ownership generally – 68 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, leaving just 17 percent of Internet users without one – but the rise of smartphone-only adults is particularly apparent among blacks and those with low incomes or rural addresses.

Does this reveal a new handicap for those from low-income backgrounds who need a job to move up, or are tech-dependent Americans just alarmed by the prospect of doing anything without the Internet? Pew writes:

Those who are “smartphone-dependent” for access do encounter distinct challenges. Previous Pew Research Center findings show that they are more likely than other users to run up against data-cap limits that often accompany smartphone service plans. They also more frequently have to cancel or suspend service due to financial constraints. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that those who use digital tools for job searches face challenges when it comes to key tasks such as filling out job applications and writing cover letters.

This study follows a Pew Research Center report that 15 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all. Those without Internet are disproportionately found among older Americans age 50 and up and are twice as likely to live in rural areas rather than urban or suburban places. They are less educated, as 33 percent of those who did not finish high school do not use Internet, compared to 9 percent who have some college and 4 percent with a college degree.

Race has some impact on Internet use, as well. Twenty percent of non-users are black, 18 percent are Hispanic, and only five percent are Asian.

Both studies follow the expected trend that those with less money and education have less Internet access, and widespread Internet access is still too new to say whether this represents causation or just obvious correlation. The new study, however, provides a more nuanced picture, showing that among the 85 percent of Americans who do use the Internet, not all access is created equal.

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