Let’s say you’re unemployed and looking for a new job. It’s summertime and brutally hot outside. You walk all over town looking for a “We’re Hiring” sign, only to return home sweaty and disappointed after not finding anything. Or maybe you do come across an opportunity, but it’s not the right fit for you; they’re hiring a chef and you can barely make toast.*
Someone tells you that you should search for a job online. You can visit sites that allow you to directly search for openings in your line of work, all from your home. But what if you don’t have a device or internet connection? You decide to visit a local library, but you’ve never turned a computer on in your life. You don’t even know where to start.
For many of us, this type of situation may sound unthinkable. In today’s day and age, the internet has become such a major part of most of our lives that we often take it for granted. However, over 21 million Americans are offline, and the above scenario is the reality for many.
Ensuring that all Americans are connected to the internet can support workers in their search for meaningful employment. It can also encourage folks to quit jobs in which they are being mistreated, as they discover the plethora of other opportunities posted online.
Digital equity promotes workers’ rights in other ways as well. For example, many jobs have digitized certain procedures related to human resources (HR). Do you want to see your past pay stubs or request time off? It’s often through some kind of online portal. Do you have to sign up for direct deposit? The easiest way is to sign in to your online banking account and find your routing numbers. Yet millions of Americans do not have the technological skills to perform such tasks.
Let’s go even further. In our post-pandemic world, labor unions have increasingly begun harnessing the power of digital communications. They may host online meetings, request digital signatures on petitions, or communicate with members about upcoming events via email. The digitally excluded are unable to participate.
Connecting the unconnected is a human rights issue. It’s also a labor rights issue.
*Of course, job searching in-person is not always like this. Sometimes you might get lucky and find a wonderful opportunity.
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