The ability to use a computer and connect online is essential in today’s increasingly digital economy. But at least 10 percent of the US working population is digitally illiterate, a share disproportionately made up of Black and Latinx adults. Without the skills, awareness, and confidence to access online job postings, craft résumés, and correspond digitally with employers, these workers are excluded from the modern economy. And with the increasing digitization of job tasks, living-wage careers that can fuel economic mobility are farther out of reach for people without computer skills.
The nonprofit Byte Back offers basic digital literacy programming for adults with little or no computer experience, a demographic that does not qualify for traditional tech training programs. No research yet quantifies the labor market value of basic digital literacy for low-tech workers. This project aims to fill that knowledge gap by measuring the impact of a core foundational course at Byte Back that introduces students to digital skills, such as operating a computer, connecting to the internet, and accessing digital resources. Through randomized and quasi-experimental designs, RAND Corporation and Morgan State University will study the short-term employment and earnings of students receiving foundational digital skills training. Researchers will also observe changes in intermediate outcomes, such as job search behavior, daily technology use, and personal economic outlooks. Results from the project could inform and enhance federal investments intended to bridge the digital divide, such as grants from the Digital Equity Act.