A new study from the Joan Ganz Cooney center, an independent research lab that focuses on modern challenges to children's education, has revealed that, of all low-income families, Latino immigrant families are most likely to be under-connected or not connected to the Internet.

More broadly, the problem of Internet access still handicaps many families, causing a "digital divide."

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center's latest study -- a representative nationwide survey of over 1,000 low-income parents of school-aged children -- shows that Latinos are more likely than any other group to be on the unfortunate side of the digital divide.

The study, titled "Opportunity for All? Technology and learning in lower-income families," found some positive signs. The vast majority of low-income and moderate-income families (94 percent) have connections to the Internet. Still, many of these families are under-connected, either with mobile-only Internet connections or inconsistent connections, and Hispanic immigrant families fare worst of all.

Immigrant Latinos Least Connected

The greatest disparity in connectivity reported by the center was with low-income Hispanic immigrant families. One in 10 Hispanic immigrant families in the low-income survey had no Internet access at all, compared to 7 percent of Latinos born in the U.S., 5 percent of whites and 1 percent of African-Americans.

But being under-connected affected even more Latino immigrants. A full 41 percent of Hispanic immigrant parents only had mobile Internet access, a problem that especially affects students needing to do work online for school that was highlighted by Pew Research last year. Pew found that 13 percent of all Latinos fit the description of "smartphone-dependent." Meanwhile, nearly half of all people who fit that categorization had to suspend or cancel their wireless subscriptions due to data caps or insufficient funds for the subscription.

A full 20 percent of immigrant Latino families reported not going online at all, even occasionally, which was another outlier compared to other groups. Only 4 percent of whites and 2 percent of blacks with low incomes reported the same.

But besides Internet connections, the study also underlined Hispanic immigrants' access to computers. Just under half (44 percent) of immigrant Latino parents reported they did not use computers, even occasionally, at work, home, or school.

Compared to Latino immigrant families, other low-income demographics fared better, though still behind the economic mainstream: 25 percent of blacks, 16 percent of whites, and 17 percent of U.S.-born Latinos below median incomes had mobile-only access.

Access, Affordability, and Awareness 

As with much of the digital divide, cost was the main reason families were under-connected, mobile-only, not connected to the Internet, or hadn't even used a computer. While the prices of digital technology and Internet connections have fallen to affordable ranges for most of the population, low-income families still struggle.

For example, 40 percent of low-income parents didn't have a computer, while 42 percent had no home Internet access. Only 13 percent of low-income parents said they had decided they didn't need Internet access, while three times as many said the connections and equipment were too expensive.

Interestingly, some of this might be alleviated by greater promotion and awareness of affordable Internet access programs for low-income families, as only 6 percent of those with incomes 185 percent below the poverty level said they had ever signed up for such discount programs. 

Greater awareness could help low-income families, as could the expansion and modernization of the federal "Lifeline" program. The program currently provides affordable telephone service to low-income families. Dozens of U.S. Congress members and the National Hispanic Media Coalition have put forward an initiative to expand the program to cover broadband connections too.

Read more about the Joan Ganz Cooney Center's study here