The Center for Disease Control has just released some stats on the relationship between poverty and cell phone use. As they put it:
- Adults living in poverty (56.2%) were more likely than adults living near poverty (46.1%) and higher income adults (36.6%) to be living in households with only wireless telephones.
Given that it is harder to track and poll cell phones, and given that most legal needs studies rely heavily on phone polling, this means that in future legal needs studies may be under counting the legal needs of the poor.
Moreover, this may not be corrected by poverty weighting of samples. As the Washington Post summarizes the findings with respect to health:
But undercounting wireless users can skew crucial health survey information, such as how many American adults are diabetics, heavy smokers, or people who have a reliable place to find health care. And, as it turns out, the NHIS has found several statistically significant differences between wireless-only and landline homes.
Adults in wireless-only households are, for example, less likely to have received their flu shots and are more likely to have faced financial barriers to health care. They’re also more likely to smoke and drink heavily. And those correlations stick even when researchers control for factors such as age, income level and home ownership status.
“This suggests to us that there’s something about these people’s personalities that may lead to health risk behaviors,” Blumberg said.
It may well be that there is a similar effect with legal problems, and we should be researching it. (Although I would prefer to think about it as “circumstances” rather than personalities.”)
For example, those without landlines may be “frequent movers” and perhaps not always voluntarily.
We need research on this. Given that community-based legal aid programs collect phone numbers, one interesting study would be how the percentage of mobile only users compares with that of the poverty population generally — and indeed how that groups legal issues compares with intake generally.
More generally, the next legal needs study should look very carefully at this set of issues.