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Smartphones are only a luxury if you have money

Dependency on smartphones goes up when you have few other ways to get online.
Dependency on smartphones goes up when you have few other ways to get online.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Do you want healthcare or a smartphone? 

That was the choice posited by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Tuesday morning. His comments made it seem as though smartphones are an extravagance. 

“Americans have choices,” Chaffetz said. “So maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.” 

And before this devolves into partisan screaming, let’s point out that former President Barack Obama once said something quite similar

On Tuesday, many people were alarmed by Chaffetz equating the purchases. 

Aside from the logical absurdity of comparing a $600 iphone with healthcare, which can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars or more, Chaffetz’s point seems to be that smartphones are inherently frivolous. However, recent data suggests that smartphones aren’t actually an extravagance. 

Around 13 percent of Americans whose households earn less than $30,000 per year are considered “smartphone-dependent,” according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center. Only 1 percent of Americans whose households earn more than $75,000 are considered to have that same level of dependence. 

63 percent of these smartphone-depending users have gotten job information on their phone.

A smartphone-dependent person has limited or no access to another internet connection outside their phone, and people earning a lower income are more likely to use smartphones for crucial activities.

They’re “especially likely” to use their phones to look for jobs, according to Pew. Those from households earning less than $30,000 pear year are twice as likely to search for jobs with their phone than those from households where the income is above $75,000, and four times more likely to send an application for a job via their phone.

According to Pew, “63 percent of these smartphone-depending users have gotten job information on their phone in the last year, and 39 percent have used their phone to submit a job application.”

After leaving CNN, Chaffetz went on Fox News, where he was given a shot at cleaning up his comments. Chaffetz said his remarks didn’t go “as smoothly” as they could have, but he stuck with the meat of what he’d already said. 

“People need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance,” he said. 

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