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Study identifies tech challenges of women transitioning from incarceration

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LAWRENCE — Marginalized communities have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for women transitioning back to society after incarceration, it has severely affected their access to and knowledge about technology, one of the keys to making the transition. University of Kansas scholars have written a study about the return to a digital world for women coming out of prison or jail, their technology use, privacy management and the effects of the pandemic on their digital access. The research was part of building technology classes to help the population successfully rejoin society.

Hyunjin Seo, associate professor of journalism & mass communications at KU, is principal investigator of a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2019 to provide evidence-based technology education to women transitioning from incarceration. Through interviews with 75 women, they learned more about challenges these women face in returning to an increasingly digital world. Specifically, they found the women, though showing varying degrees of experiences with digital technologies, often have inadequate access to the internet, rely on cellphones for completing tasks online and often know little about protecting their privacy online, or have potentially dangerous attitudes about online safety. On top of that, the pandemic has presented further challenges in internet access and gaining employment upon reentering society.

The findings are presented in an article forthcoming in the journal New Media & Society. Co-authors include Hannah Britton, professor of political science and of women, gender & sexuality studies; Megha Ramaswamy, associate professor of preventive medicine & public health; doctoral students Darcey Altschwager, Matt Blomberg and Shola Aromona; and senior researchers Bernard Schuster, Marilyn Ault and Joi Wickliffe, all of KU. The research results have also served as foundation for an evidence-based technology class for women transitioning from incarceration. Seo had previously designed a local educational program for the population and was encouraged by all of the participants successfully finding employment.

“I’d been thinking about how to scale up that project, so we submitted a research proposal to the National Science Foundation to work with more women in Missouri and Kansas,” Seo said. “Happily, this proposal was funded. For all of our projects like this, we first conduct rigorous research to develop an evidence-based program.”

The article presents findings on the challenges and knowledge women transitioning from incarceration had, both before and during the pandemic. Key among the findings was access to the internet. Many women reported relying on cellphones to access the internet. Often, they also used places like public libraries, coffee shops or fast food restaurants for Wi-Fi. The pandemic further complicated matters.

“There is increasing awareness of a digital divide and its effects, especially during a pandemic. A significant proportion of people simply do not have adequate access to computers or internet at home. Public places where they generally use public-access computers or Wi-Fi are closed due to COVID-19,” Seo said. “Women transitioning from incarceration have distinct challenges as well. While incarcerated, they are separated from technology and have to catch up when released.”

Fewer than half of respondents reported having a laptop or standalone computer they could use. Some reported having to borrow laptops or tablets provided by schools when the students weren’t using them to accomplish tasks such as completing job applications and searching for housing. Those who had cellphones with internet access often had data plans that severely limited the amount of time they could spend online each month.

Isolation from digital technologies while incarcerated was often compounded by other factors when participants were learning about new technologies upon release.

“A significant percentage of women who were incarcerated had histories of sexual harassment or abuse, which can lead to mental health challenges, increased frustration, anger management and other issues when trying to learn about new technology,” Seo said.

In terms of online security and privacy, the research participants indicated they often did not know how to protect their privacy or information online. That manifested in several ways, including many choosing not to join social media or going online very little for fear of losing information. Several women, especially those recently released, also reported feelings of still being monitored or surveilled, which resulted in reluctance to be active online. Others reported not wanting to be online in order to avoid being located by abusive partners or exes, or a reluctance to make friends on social media for that reason.

A lack of knowledge about online security also revealed itself in a “nothing-to-lose” attitude among some of the women in the study. Respondents frequently reported having bad credit, lack of employment or little money as reasons to not be fearful of having their information exposed online. Such an attitude is dangerous, as it can lead to reckless behavior or leave people vulnerable to malicious actors online, Seo said.

Above all, the findings show a digital divide is real, and certain populations are often left behind in terms of digital access and knowledge. The overall project aims to support more than 100 women-in-reentry to complete technology education during the three-year project period. Participants not only learn about technology, security and privacy and receive certificates of completion they can list on their resumes, and skills they can put to work in successfully rejoining society and avoiding recidivism.

“We’re trying to help this population of women enhance their technological skills that they can use in securing employment in an environment where their skills are increasingly valued,” Seo said. “We also know the pandemic has forced the cancellation of many classes and made access more difficult. Google Fiber has provided support for purchasing refurbished computers and mobile hotspots for the project. There have been efforts made to address the digital divide, but there simply have not been sufficient efforts made on behalf of this particular group.”

Image credit: Pexels.com

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Evicted California renters at greater risk of getting COVID-19

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After 70 years in Monterey County, 87-year-old Mary Martinez moved in the middle of a pandemic, evicted from her modest one-bedroom, second-floor apartment at 1118 Parkside St. in north Salinas.

According to her former landlord, Martinez was evicted because she allowed a “violent man” to live with her, violating the conditions of her lease. Martinez said the man is her epileptic nephew.

Advocates say that while evictions like Martinez’s are rarer during the pandemic, landlords are feeling the financial squeeze. Some have sold rental properties to make up for lack of income. That can leave renters out in the cold when their new landlord raises the rent by hundreds of dollars or requires all renters move out before they take over the building.

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New program to help Black-owned online businesses | Technology

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ATLANTA _ Many Black entrepreneurs struggle to get bank loans and professional help to launch new businesses. A new program aims to remove those stumbling blocks.

An Atlanta nonprofit and another business have committed $150 million to the 1 Million Black Businesses effort, which will make loans and provide financial and business advice to Black-owned startups and established small businesses. Atlanta-based nonprofit Operation Hope, which helps consumers improve credit scores, is kicking in $20 million, and Shopify, the online e-commerce is adding another $130 million for the loans and website-hosting services.

Other services firms providing expertise or help include Aprio, an Atlanta-based accounting firm, and First Horizon Bank.

It’s a package of products that many Black entrepreneurs couldn’t get through a bank or credit union, said John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation Hope.

“A bank won’t lend you money unless you can prove that you don’t need it,” Bryant said. “That’s especially true with minority-owned small businesses.”

Small businesses with Black owners were half as likely to obtain business loans as whites, according to a Federal Reserve survey published earlier this year.

The initiative is the latest effort to help Black consumers and businesses enter the financial mainstream. Earlier this month, a group that includes rapper Killer Mike opened a digital bank aimed at Black and Latino consumers.

Banks and credit unions have tried for years to help Black consumers open checking and savings accounts. The efforts helped, as the number of U.S. households without bank accounts fell to 5.4% in 2019 from 6.5% in 2017, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Monday.

Consumers who own checking and savings accounts typically have access loans with better rates and a wider variety of financial services.

The federal government’s $660 billion loan initiative for businesses hit by COVID-19, the Paycheck Protection Program, also helped few Black-owned businesses, Bryant said. PPP loans were based on a company’s number of employees and its rent obligations. many Black-owned small businesses typically didn’t have enough workers to qualify and are based out of the owner’s residence.

Bryant said a bad credit history may not prevent applicants from receiving a loan.

He hopes more companies will contribute services such as insurance advice or software typically available only to well-established businesses.

Bryant noted that 1MBB is not a charitable organization, as participating companies like Shopify will likely get a pipeline of new business customers through the program.

“This is not pure philanthropy,” he said. “Shopify believes that Black-owned businesses are good businesses if they’re properly supported.”

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This Week’s Top Car Deals & Analysis – October 30, 2020

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The final days of October offer a chance to take advantage of outstanding model year-end deals. Most offers end November 2, which means there isn’t much time left to enjoy this month’s best lease deals and deepest new car discounts. We even found incentives that can help those with bad credit buy a new or used car.

2021 car deals. Interestingly, 2021 new car incentives are showing some surprises. For example, Audi is already offering up to $12,000 in savings when leasing the 2021 e-tron all-electric crossover. We even learned that the new Genesis GV80 SUV will debut with a $589/month lease deal plus special financing rates.

Believe it or not, the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N could prove to be a great value despite a nearly $4,700 price increase compared to the previous year. That’s because our analysis finds that better incentives can make it just $10/month more expensive to lease than the 2020 model. Talk about getting more for your money.

Why are small cars bad to lease? Even though smaller cars typically come with lower price tags, that isn’t always the case when leasing. A mix of lower discounts, worse residual values, and smaller discounts can actually make a Nissan Altima cheaper than a Versa despite having an almost $10,000 difference in MSRP.

Shorter-mileage leases. More brands are offering shorter mileage allowances on car leases. Although this is typically used to offer consumers more flexibility, we’ve found cases in which you can end up getting less for your money. If you don’t read all the fine print, this could make comparison-shopping difficult.

Bad credit car deals. If you have subprime credit, you may find it harder to get financed. However, some manufacturers are offering special incentives to help make cars & trucks more affordable. For example, Chevy is offering $2,000 in down payment assistance plus 9.9% APR for 72 months on the 2020 Trax.

$0 down leases. If you’re adamant about now putting down any money on a lease, you’ll love Sign & Drive leases. In addition to requiring no money down, $0 down lease deals can cover your first month’s payment. Even hot sellers like the Honda CR-V Hybrid offer $0 down and as little as $330/month on a lease.

The high cost of safety? Even though most major automakers are offering more safety features than ever before, our analysis finds that the highest IIHS safety ratings still require costly options in 2020. That’s starting to change, but the cost of buying a car with the most bragging rights is still very high.

Disaster relief. Those affected by some of this year’s natural disasters should be aware that automakers are offering assistance. California wildfire assistance programs like Ford Employee Pricing can save thousands when replacing a car. Similarly, a 2020 hurricane relief program from GM offers $1,000 in savings.

Spooky loan situations. There are some scary scenarios you can avoid when getting a car loan. However, boosting your credit score is possible with some determination because negative items on your credit report fall off after 7 years. Our network of dealers is specially equipped to help those with bad credit.

Upcoming vehicles. Genesis finally revealed the new GV70, a small luxury crossover based on the highly-rated G70 sedan. Whether it’s a redesigned car, truck, or SUV, odds are you’ll find it on our Previews page. That said, as we reported last week, discounts ahead of a redesign can result in substantial savings.

This Month’s Cheapest Lease Deals »



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