By Jason A. Llorenz
Today's economy has become so intertwined with the internet and computers that it stands to reason that anyone who isn't comfortable navigating cyberspace or has the skills to operate a computer and run various software is at a real disadvantage in this increasingly technical job market.
However, as today's Guest Voz writer, Jason A. Llorenz, executive director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership reveals, Latinos are at much greater risk of losing out in this digital economy than other populations.
The slowly recovering American economy - still shaky from rising fuel prices and an uncertain real estate market - has meant extended hard times for many Americans.
The national unemployment rate in March was 8.8 percent, yet the rate for Hispanics was 11.3 percent - about 43 percent higher than the 7.9 percent unemployment rate among whites, according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics.
One key to long-term economic recovery and ameliorating the disproportionate jobless rates is minority entrepreneurship. To support it, we need policies that promote digital skills and encourage access to high speed Internet for diverse communities.
Broadband is an indispensable tool for small businesses, including minority-run businesses. Small businesses account for over 60 percent of all new jobs, and minority-owned firms are growing four times faster than all U.S. firms.
Small- and medium-sized businesses depend more than larger ones on mobile broadband. Broadband enables these businesses "more affordable access to job training for employees, improved access to suppliers, and faster outreach to potential and actual consumers through websites, emails, and e-commerce," according to Lawrence Strickland of the US Commerce Department.
Ultimately, policymakers and stakeholders must confront how to grow a skilled workforce and build up the technology infrastructure to support economic growth and innovation. Latinos, the fastest-growing community in the country, must not only have access to the high-speed Internet, but must be educated to leverage it for business, education and life functions.
Hispanics' relationship with the Internet and digital skills is complex. According to a report by Shapiro and Hassett: "80% of Latinos view the Internet as important for economic opportunity and 'keeping up with the times,' compared to 65% of Whites."