Poorer households giving up landlines
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A growing number of Americans are getting rid of their old landline telephones and using only cellphones, a trend led not by the high-tech elite but by people in poorer states trying to save money.
Government estimates released Wednesday show at least 30 percent of adults in 10 states rely entirely on cellphones, with the highest percentage in Arkansas and Mississippi, where many cannot afford to pay for two separate lines.
Wealthier households have been slower to use wireless technology as their sole means of making calls.
“The answer’s obvious: No one has money here,” said John N. Daigle, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Mississippi with broad experience in the telecommunications industry. “If they can do without a landline, they’ll do it to save money.”
William Phillips of North Little Rock says he grew tired of paying for a landline his family rarely used. So he and his wife dumped their old phone and now rely instead on prepaid cellphones that cost a total of $75 a month.
Phillips, a 39-year-old commercial pilot, taught his 12-year-old son, who doesn’t have a phone, to email him rather than call when the boy is at home.
“I’ve heard people talk about it, that they ought to do it,” Phillips said. “They’re just hanging onto that phone number.”
About 35 percent of adults in Arkansas and Mississippi have only cellphones, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Idaho, 31.7 percent of adults live in wireless-only households; in Washington, 26.4 percent do.
In New Jersey and Rhode Island, the states where the smallest proportion of people depend solely on wireless phones, that figure is only 13 percent.
Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation – 21.9 percent in 2009, according to the Census Bureau. The Arkansas figure was 18.8 percent. The nationwide rate is 14.3 percent.
In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau defined poverty as a single person making less than $11,000 a year or a family of four making less than $22,000 a year.
“I think people decide, ‘I can afford one but not the other,’ ” said Ellen Reddy, who works for a nonprofit community center that helps low-income residents in Holmes County, Miss. She said poor people in her area often have cellphones with a limited number of minutes.
“When the minutes are gone, oftentimes we can’t reach our families,” Reddy said. “I think people are making choices.”
The number of American households that rely exclusively on cellphones has been growing steadily nationwide, hitting 27 percent in the first half of 2010, an eightfold increase in just six years. Arkansas has had the greatest increase, with 15 percentage points. New Jersey’s 7 percentage point growth was the lowest.