Many Southerners are connected in a new way — by their lack of connection to the Internet.
How to get help
The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce is working with county libraries to offer the unemployment insurance service Connection Points to the community.
Connection Points, which allows customers to file unemployment claims online, submit weekly claims and conduct job searches, will be provided by the following organizations:
Abbeville County Library System
Aiken/Barnwell/Bamberg/Edgefield Regional Library System
Anderson County Library
Beaufort County Library
Harvin Clarendon County Library
Colleton County Public Library
Darlington County Library System
Dorchester County Library
Greenville County Public Library
Laurens County Library
Marlboro County Public Library
McCormick County Library
Oconee County Public Library
York County Library
Department of Employment and Workforce
According to 2011 U.S. Census data, Southern states have lower percentages of citizens accessing the Internet from home and higher percentages of those without computers or the Internet at home. Mississippi ranks last in both categories: 61.4 percent of those 3 or older have access to household Internet use and 26.8 percent have no access to a computer or Internet at home.
By the numbers
Percentage of population without Internet and computers, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2011 data:
U.S. average: 15.9%
North Carolina: 20.4%
South Carolina: 21.6%
(New Mexico: 21.7%)
Percentage of individuals age 3 or older with Internet use in household, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2011 data:
Mississippi: 61.4% — 50th
Arkansas: 68.5% — 48th
Alabama: 69.5% — 46th
Texas: 69.5% — 46th
South Carolina: 70% — 45th
Tennessee: 70.4% — 44th
Louisiana: 71% — 43rd
U.S. average: 71.7%
Percentage of county residents with at least 3 mbps* download Internet available in their area, according to National Broadband Map June 2012 data:
*mbps is megabits per second
The Palmetto State ranked two places above Mississippi in home Internet and computer access. The U.S. Census Bureau reports 21.6 percent of South Carolinians having neither a computer at home nor access to the Internet.
Charleston native Mignon Clyburn, acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, has said equal access to the Internet for all people regardless of location is of supreme importance to her as a regulator.
“Cadillac or Yugo, in terms of communication, you ought to be able to log on and be connected,” Clyburn told The Post and Courier in 2010.
With more than a fifth of South Carolina’s residents without online access, finding a job can become more difficult.
Kirk Foster, assistant professor of social work at the University of South Carolina, said a lack of resources, both Internet and social networks, constricts job possibilities.
“Technology plays a role in it, but these social connections are a factor that we can’t discount,” Foster said.
Suburban areas, where employers are attempting cost-cutting measures through outsourcing or hiring younger employees for cheaper salaries, are starting to see the worst of it, Foster said.
“One thing that we know is we’re seeing a rise in suburban areas in poverty,” he said. “A lot of people that have been in the workforce for a long time have been downsized.”
In a county-by-county comparison provided by the National Broadband Map and the Federal Communications Commission, Bamberg, Edgefield and Hampton counties had the lowest percentage of residents with a minimum 3 megabits per second download speed, each placing in the low 70 percentiles. That means for every second, 3 million bits of information are traveling from one point to the other. The FCC redefined “high-speed Internet” to mean at least 4 mbps in 2010.
For those who are without Internet or computer access, libraries often become a haven to connect with the outside world, particularly for work. Doug Henderson, executive director of the Charleston County Public Library system, says this is not new.
“When the recession first hit, when people started losing their jobs, a lot of people started to come to libraries,” Henderson said.
The county system teaches classes on the skills job seekers need, ranging from PowerPoint to resume building.
“We’ve been concentrated heavily on workforce help for the past three or four years,” Henderson said.
In June, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce laid off 100 people and eliminated one-on-one help with claims in these offices. Local libraries in county systems such as Beaufort, Colleton and Dorchester now have been labeled as “unemployment insurance service connection points” to help those with unemployment claims.
As a result of the recent online reorganization, the Charleston County Library system’s “unique” or individual sessions on its computers increased 53 percent in the last fiscal year. More than 200,000 more sessions were logged on the county libraries’ computers.
Library employees noted a marked increase of visitors on the computers in the past weeks after the reorganization.
Darlene Jackson, manager of the Charleston main library on Calhoun Street, said its two busiest times are when the library opens, around 9 a.m., and around 3 p.m. Weekends, Jackson and Henderson said, also see more traffic because patrons often have more time on Saturdays and Sundays.
The library houses 42 computer workstations, but that’s not enough, Henderson said.
“We should have 200 to 300 more workstations in the county,” he said.
On the third floor, Technology Learning Center manager Jennifer Lively walks through rows of computers assisting people with job-related questions.
“This morning, I have helped four to five job seekers in the hour I’ve been here,” Lively said Wednesday.
Computer users are limited to a one-hour session to allow other patrons a chance.
Lively smiled as she recounted patrons she had helped. From helping out with video assignments to tips on the job search, Jackson and Lively love to hear patrons’ success stories from around the county.
“We do hear really nice things all the time,” Lively said.
Reach Nick Watson at 937-4810.