I want to start by thanking those of you who chose to read this post, as I realize that this is not the sexiest title you will see this week. While this topic may not be good click-bait, it nonetheless deserves an important discussion.
United States Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) recently came under fire for a controversial quote while defending the Trump administration’s (now defeated) healthcare plan that was supposed to replace the ACA.
Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions for themselves.
Ignoring the fact that health insurance can often cost significantly more than an iPhone, this did make me wonder about the state of mobile devices and the poor in America. Do a lot of poor Americans actually have smartphones? And if so, do they really need them when they could be using that money for food, clothing, and shelter?
Reflecting on my own experience for a moment, I remember having these thoughts before, when I spent the summer working at a local car wash back in High School. The vast majority of my coworkers at the car wash were impoverished adult men, many of whom were homeless. Over time, I became friendly with my coworkers and heard their stories of tragedy one by one. Drugs, crime, and poverty had crippled these men beyond belief. After work I would see my fellow human beings walk off into the woods where they lived. It was heartbreaking.
All the while, I noticed that every single one of these men had not only a cell phone, but a fully equipped smartphone. I couldn’t have been more confused. Why did these men spend the little money they had on data plans instead of shelter? I never forgot about that, and the words of Rep. Chaffetz made wonder once again if this observation was truly symbolic of a greater trend, and if so, why America’s poor choose to spend what little money they have on smartphones. So, I decided to do some research.
As it turns out, a significant amount of lower class Americans actually own smartphones. According to a Pew Research study conducted in late 2016, 92% of Americans earning less than $30,000 a year own cell phones, and 64% of the same demographic own smartphones. The big question then is why poor Americans would spend such a relatively large amount of money on what seems to be a luxury product. The answer is actually very simple.
Smartphones are not a luxury for poor people; they are a necessity.
Because of their economic situations, middle and upper class Americans view smartphones as luxury items. If a middle or upper class person breaks their smartphone, they have plenty of alternatives. For example, they can still use their laptop computer and/or mobile tablet to access the internet from their provider at home. In addition, they can most likely use their work computer to access the internet at their job. If for some reason none of these options are available, they could probably seek help from their middle or upper class parent, spouse, or friend who likely has multiple devices of his or her own at their disposal. In all reality, a smartphone helps to make their lives easier, but is not critical to their existence.
This cannot be further from the truth for poor people. Many low income Americans rely entirely on their smartphones as their only technological device. They certainly do not have the disposable income to afford a laptop computer and broadband internet access, and the many who work in blue collar jobs probably do not have a work computer either. This phenomenon is referred to as smartphone dependency. A person is considered to be smartphone dependent if he/she owns a smartphone and does not have broadband internet access from their home. After reviewing the chart below, it is absolutely clear that the decision for a less fortunate American to purchase a smartphone makes a great deal of sense.
Smartphone Dependency By Income:
While the large portion of poor Americans considered to be smartphone dependent may seem negative, this is in fact a positive statistic. These statistics show that people who otherwise would be unable to access the internet are able to do so via mobile devices. This becomes especially important when considering the various uses of the internet which are crucial to poor Americans in particular.
When low income Americans gain internet access through a smartphone, they gain access a better education, which is critical in escaping the cycle of poverty. Online classes provide affordable higher education, while traditional elementary schools now have moved to paperless curriculums that require students to do homework online. Another very important use of the internet for lower income Americans is for professional purposes. Most jobs today are only posted online, and people of all backgrounds need to have internet access to find opportunities to advance professionally and economically.
I am very glad I took the time to research and inform myself about this issue, and I hope you enjoyed learning about it as well. So the next time someone asks about whether that poor person should be spending all their money on an iPhone, kindly remind that person that smartphones are anything but a luxury for less fortunate Americans.
For further information about this topic, please see my main source here.