Obama Promotes E-Book Gift for Poor Kids Amid Inequality Debate

President Barack Obama will announce Thursday that book publishers have committed $250 million in new e-book donations to help low-income children access some of the most popular titles in kids’ literature.

Obama will unveil the program during a trip to the predominantly black Washington neighborhood of Anacostia. Aides hinted that the president would use the event as a demonstration of how the administration is addressing income inequality amid racial unrest in cities like Baltimore.

“If we’re serious about living up to what our country is about, then we have to consider what we can do to provide opportunities in every community, not just when they’re on the front page, but every day,” National Economic Council director Jeff Zients said Wednesday in a conference call for reporters.

But the program, which features commitments from brand-name publishers like Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster, faces some hurdles in reaching the children who could benefit the most.

Just 14 percent of homes with incomes below $30,000 annually own an e-reader, according to a Pew Research study released last year. Tablet ownership is slightly higher, with 26 percent of those making below $30,000 a year reporting they have such a device.

Spreading Technology

White House officials dismissed the concerns, saying the books could be also be read on computers or smartphones that are declining in price and becoming more ubiquitous in homes. They also said that some school districts and libraries loan tablets and e-readers to low-income students.

Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, pointed to the “presence of a lot more devices in schools” and said that Apple Inc. had previously pledged to donate $100 million in iPads, laptops, and software to underprivileged schools.

“Libraries are going to be lending both books on paper as well as books on devices,” she said.

To that end, the White House is also announcing that 30 communities have committed to putting a library card in the hand of every child. Children in low-income households are only half as likely as their peers to have a library card, the White House said.

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