Poor households take lead in abandoning landlines

In a financial and technological role reversal, a growing number of Americans — and Missourians — are getting rid of their old telephones and using only cellphones, a trend being led not by the high-tech elite but by people in poorer states as a way 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.

Estimates released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 22 percent of Missouri adults rely solely on cellphones.

In St. Louis city and the adjacent St. Louis County, the rate of cellphone-only households was even higher at 26.9 percent. The rate for the rest of the state was 21.1 percent in the latest state-by-state figures covering the 12 months through June 2010.

The numbers show a big jump from the 12-month period ending in December 2007, when 10.1 percent of Missouri adults lived in wireless-only households.

Nationally, 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.”

About 35 percent of adults in Arkansas and Mississippi have only cellphones, according to figures from the CDC.

In New Jersey and Rhode Island, the states where the smallest proportion of people depend strictly 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 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.

Donielle Flowers of Little Rock doesn’t remember the last time she had a landline. She’s chosen to carry one of two cellphones — a free, government-subsidized phone with 250 minutes a month, and a prepaid phone that costs $60 a month.

“It’s an extra bill,” Flowers, 34, said of landlines. “I’m rarely at home, so I just need a cellphone. I’d be lost without it.”

That matches the conclusion of Stephen Blumberg, a senior CDC scientist and an author of the survey. Over the years, Blumberg has found that lower-income people are more likely than higher-earning Americans to have only wireless phones. Younger people and renters are also quicker to shed traditional landlines.

Online:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr039.pdf

Earlier version posted at 2:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, 2011:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Growing numbers of Missourians are dropping their landlines.

Estimates released Wednesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 22 percent of Missouri adults rely solely on cellphones — compared to about 24 percent nationally.

In St. Louis City and the adjacent St. Louis County, the rate of cellphone-only households was even higher at 26.9 percent. The rate for the rest of the state was 21.1 percent in the latest state-by-state figures covering the 12 months through June 2010.

The numbers show a big jump from the 12-month period ending in December 2007, when 10.1 percent of Missouri adults lived in wireless-only households.

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