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Chicago’s Economic Digital Divide / By: Tyler McHugh

Our economy is progressing toward an ever-increasing digital state. Digital currencies, artificial intelligence, and digital business demonstrate this evolution. Yet, in Chicago, a lack of access to the digital economy leads to unaddressed issues. “About 80% of households have internet access but…there is a…40 percentage point difference between certain neighborhoods.” (Sherry, 2022) Furthermore, educational disparities in those neighborhoods hinder citizens from prospering from digital opportunities.

In Chicago, this digital divide, or separation between those who do and do not have access to computers and the internet, detrimentally affects us all. Our current and future generations will lack the necessary access to positively contribute to our economy. The University of Chicago pinpoints this and offers a solution, stating, “Policymakers should aim investments toward providing affordable Internet services… on the South and West sides of Chicago alongside programs to boost… understanding of Internet usage and adoption.” (UChicago, 2022) To combat disparity within Chicago’s South and West sides, the university proposes programs, specifically targeting these locations, to acclimate new users to the internet and familiarize them with the many applications that the digital economy offers.

Within the Chicago Public School system, academic institutions offer solutions to the digital divide. UChicago student Amelie Sanchez states, “UChicago works closely with lots of different Chicago public schools through providing internet access, tutoring programs, and more.” Additionally, Chicago Public Schools create solutions to combat the digital divide. According to Dr. Elizabeth Eakin, an esteemed computer science teacher at Northside College Preparatory High School, “Although Illinois does not require computer science lessons for graduation, there have been certain initiatives that attempt to provide this. In…Northside College Prep, the fact that we make computer science… a part of the graduation requirements is a big deal. Yet, computer science programs are not cheap, and the resources required aren’t always prevalent.” These initiatives provide a path to adequate internet access and education, allowing a better future for all.

It is paramount for corporations, academic institutions, and local government officials to become involved in the battle for equity in our digital society. Our collective effort must ensure a fully integrated city that provides internet access. If we stagnate, however, this digital wave will swallow us whole. We must move fast – time is not on our side.

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