At a time when many companies are posting job opportunities on the Internet and are requesting that job applicants submit their resumes via e-mail, a new study finds that less than half of the working poor have access to the Internet or a computer at work or at home.
Only 39 percent of the working poor and unemployed people surveyed by Rutgers University had access to the Internet, compared with 76 percent of other employees.
"It's another example of what's been called the `digital divide' in America," said Carl E. Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers and director of the school's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. "People without access to the Internet are cut off from many opportunities in today's economy."
Van Horn said that companies having trouble finding workers amid a labor shortage are "short-sighted" if they rely exclusively on electronic communications to post openings, because the survey indicated there are many workers interested in finding new positions that pay more money.
He said that many available workers live in less affluent neighborhoods and can be best reached through church or community groups.
"We need to look to expand the labor pool," Van Horn said. "Many employers only see a puddle because they're not looking in the right places."
The two-year-old Heldrich Center focuses on America's work-force needs and seeks to identify strategies to improve worker training. The study, which was conducted last month in collaboration with the University of Connecticut, surveyed 500 workers defined as among the working poor -- or those who earn 200 percent or less of the federally defined poverty levels. That benchmark would include, for example, a family of three with an annual income of less than $32,800. The interviews were conducted by telephone.
The survey found that the average working-poor individual is a middle-aged single white woman who holds a full-time job but earns less than $25,000 a year. Most have dependent children. About 48 percent have no paid vacation, and an additional 18 percent have less than one week of paid vacation each year.
Only about half reported they were satisfied with their health and medical coverage, compared with about three-quarters of the other workers previously surveyed by the center.
The survey found that more than four-fifths of the working poor surveyed said that they were interested in furthering their educations and obtaining specialized training that would allow them to move to more skilled positions that could lead to higher salaries.
"The rising tide hasn't lifted all boats," Van Horn said. "These people aren't officially poor, but they are living very difficult lives."