Can We Tackle Philadelphia's Poverty Problem With Technology?

Date: 
October 4, 2011

Our economy has taken a sustained pounding. Unemployment is out of control and the economic outlook for the next decade looks questionable, at best.

With a quarter of all Philadelphians living in poverty, many fear that we may be entering a new down-graded reality that is structural and permanent. However, we can use technology and training to get us on the right track again.

We must address the major gap between the skills people have and the skills that the available jobs require. Many of the jobs that are open now require at least functional literacy, a high school diploma or GED, and some training. In an increasingly digital world, even the lowest skill, entry-level positions require a basic level of literacy and digital literacy. Even to apply for a job at McDonalds, you need to go online, which is a real challenge when 40 percent of households in Philadelphia are without internet access.

This is challenge that we, as a city, can overcome, as has been discussed on Technically Philly before.

There are 77 public computer centers being launched this year across the city as a part of the Freedom Rings Partnership, a $25 million federally funded partnership that aims to create a new wave of technology adopters in the city. By just taking advantage of these free programs, people can gain access to a range of training opportunities to further their educations, gain valuable skills, find jobs, and participate in the economy. By linking up to these resources, people will have the chance to participate in the classroom, workplace, and in the world on their own — anywhere, anytime via technology.

In March, Mayor Nutter announced that IBM would send as much as $500,000 in technology and consulting to create a strategy for more innovative workforce development in Philadelphia. Internet Essentials, the low-cost broadband access program from Comcast announced last month, is leveraging the Freedom Rings partnership to offer training to low-income Philadelphians.

It’s important that people get connected as soon as possible.

Those of us who follow tech trends know that the digital world will change dramatically in the coming decade. As we move deeper into the 21st Century, much more of the infrastructure of life – bills, purchases, communications, entertainment, work and play – will happen in the digital space.

We need to inspire all Philadelphians to make it their job to help others to learn how to read, get trained on how to use computers, get connected to the internet and to find opportunities to do even more. Technology can’t and won’t solve every problem. However, applied correctly, technology could dramatically change the factors that fuel unemployment and poverty. By doing our part, we’ll be on the right track to tackling our largest problems, like poverty, one step at a time.

Author: 
Arun Prabhakaran is the Director of Government and Strategic Partnerships for the Urban Affairs Coalition. The group has taken an active role in fighting digital divide issues in Philadelphia.
Source: 
Technically Philly