Internet Access and Working From Home in East Central Illinois

The Internet is a resource, one that provides educational, social, and economic opportunities. Ensuring equitable internet access for all – mitigating the digital divide – has been the focus of programs across the country in recent years. One benefit of increased internet access often raised is that it enables individuals to telecommute, or work from home, meaning that self-employed individuals can work from a home office, individuals with non-home work sites can work from home in inclement weather, and individuals can even telecommute full-time, working for an employer in one city or state while residing dozens or hundreds of miles away. This has ramifications for transportation systems, sustainability, and individuals’ personal lives. This month on the blog we’re going to examine two American Community Survey (ACS) datasets, internet access by household and percentage of workers working from home, to see if there appears to be any relationship between areas with greater internet access and areas with a greater percentage of workers working from home.

The ACS has detailed data on households’ computer and internet access, including type of device and type of subscription, but for the purposes of this basic analysis, we’re just looking at one thing: what are the percentages of households with and without internet access, by county and municipality.

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table S2801; generated by CCRPC staff; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (4 February 2019).

Champaign County has the highest percentage of households with internet access, at 81.2 percent, and the lowest percentage of households without internet access, at 18.8 percent. McLean County has a similar breakdown, with 81.0 percent of households with internet access and 19.0 percent without. Peoria County has the lowest percentage of households with internet access, at 73.8 percent, and the highest percentage without, at 26.2 percent.

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table S2801; generated by CCRPC staff; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (4 February 2019).

The range of internet access percentages of Champaign County municipalities is even greater than the range of county internet access percentages. The Village of St. Joseph has the greatest percentage of households with internet access, at 93.8 percent, followed by the Village of Mahomet at 92.2 percent. These villages have, respectively, the lowest and second-lowest percentages of households without internet access: 6.2 percent and 7.8 percent. The Village of Rantoul has the lowest percentage of households with internet access, at 72.7 percent, with 27.3 percent without internet access.

Let’s assume that internet access at home allows individuals the opportunity to work from home, either as their full-time occupation or as a part-time or supplemental job or situational occurrence. Do the counties and municipalities with the greatest percentages of households with internet access also have the greatest percentages of workers working from home?

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table S0801; generated by CCRPC staff; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (4 February 2019).

Champaign County has the greatest percentage of workers working from home, at 4.4 percent, followed by Sangamon County, at 3.9 percent. As we saw above, Champaign County had the highest percentage of households with internet access, but Sangamon County fell right in the middle, third out of five. Peoria County had the smallest percentage of workers working from home, at 2.8 percent, and Macon County had the second-smallest, at 3.2 percent: this fits our prediction, as these two counties also had the lowest percentages of households with internet access.

U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table S0801; generated by CCRPC staff; using American FactFinder; <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; (4 February 2019).

Among the municipalities, Urbana had the greatest percentage of workers responding as working from home, at 5.9 percent, followed by Mahomet at 5.7 percent. Mahomet had the second-greatest percentage of households with internet access, but Urbana had the second-smallest. St. Joseph had the smallest percentage of workers working from home, at 2.7 percent, despite having the greatest percentage of households with internet access.

Our prediction – that areas with greater internet access will also have a greater percentage of workers working from home – holds up moderately well with our county-level analysis, but not at all with our analysis of the municipalities. So what does that mean?

For one thing, we need to take into consideration that these datasets measure two different things: the first two tables show internet access among households, while the second two tables show commuting behavior among workers. Depending on its size and its residents, any given household might have one worker, several workers, or no workers. All workers in a single household would have the same response for whether the household has internet access, but are likely to have different responses for their commuting behaviors.

Also, any worker might have multiple jobs. An individual may have a full-time job or one or more part-time jobs that they commute to by car, bicycle, or transit, while also running a small business from their home. They may reside in a household with internet access, and take advantage of that access to operate and grow their business, but may not respond as primarily working from home.

Furthermore, internet access allows for more home-based businesses and workers working from home, but does not guarantee that they will exist. It’s possible that there is a lag between improving internet access and an increase in working from home, or that the workforce in a given area is not working from home regardless of the opportunity to.

Finally, we also need to point out that, as always, correlation does not imply causation. Even where we do see some areas having both higher percentages of households with internet access and workers working from home, it is not necessarily true that one of these things has caused the other. Much more detailed and technical analysis would need to be done to determine whether any causal relationships actually exist.

These factors may partially explain why the data above does not perfectly illustrate the pattern we were looking for. But we shouldn’t devalue internet access, and programs to expand internet access and equity, simply because this hypothesis doesn’t hold together with this dataset. Internet access is an important resource for businesses and careers, but reducing it to that and only that ignores its roles as a social, educational, and community resource, roles that are just as important, if not more so.

It’s also important to note that the data in the first two tables is very general and can lead to oversimplification of internet access in the counties and municipalities analyzed. Internet access can vary significantly by race, ethnicity, educational attainment, income, and area of residency within a county or municipality. An area may have a high overall percentage of households with internet access, but the county- or municipality-wide percentage will not show if there are disparities of access within the population. Internet access data can be used to help plan programs, initiatives, and other efforts to improve access, but the scope of any planning process should be expanded to analyze access by the factors listed above, to improve not just internet access, but equity of access.

Related Documents

Leave a Reply

Please be respectful. All fields are required, and all comments are subject to moderation. URLs are not allowed.