Research Reveals Half a Million Americans Lack Indoor Plumbing

In the richest country in the history of the world, nearly half a million people lack indoor plumbing.

No surprise, most of them are people of color.

According to research from the Plumbing Poverty Project (PPP), in conjunction with King’s College London (KCL) and the University of Arizona, “plumbing poverty” has increased in the 15 worst cities like Portland, Ore. and San Francisco, where, despite being home to more billionaires than any other American city except New York, nearly 15,000 families live in homes without acceptable plumbing.

That figure has increased 12% since 2000 at the same time median home prices have tripled.

PPP lead researcher and KCL environment and society professor, Katie Meehan, explained:

“The story of plumbing poverty in San Francisco is inextricably tied to unaffordable housing, declining incomes, post-recession transformations in the California rental sector, and racialized wealth gaps, fueled by a kind of ‘anti-Black urbanism’ that has either driven Black San Franciscans into more precarious housing conditions or out of the Bay entirely.”

But plumbing poverty persists even in locations where it has declined.

Tens of thousands of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago residents still rely on public restrooms, school showers, and chamber pots.

Cities like Milwaukee, San Antonio, Phoenix, Nashville, Seattle, and Cleveland saw virtually no improvement between 2000 and 2017.

In Phoenix, for example, renters are earning less but paying more to occupy homes without running water. In 2017, renters without plumbing spent 43% more of their average monthly income on rent than the 25% they were spending in 2000.

In San Francisco the same year, the average renter of unplumbed property spent 44% while the typical resident spent 32% for homes with full plumbing.

Katie Meehan said:

“It’s not only that the gap between the water-rich and the water-poor is widening in America; it’s also that it’s driven by a housing sector that lacks any safety net for working families, especially households of color, that cannot afford the astronomical prices of San Francisco, Seattle, or now even Portland.”

The PPP “white paper” is intended to be a message to lawmakers about places where research and infrastructure funding are most lacking.

On Monday, President Joe Biden is expected to sign the historic “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” which contains $55 billion intended for “water infrastructure.”

But is that enough to finally eliminate the embarrassment of being the richest country in the history of the world with nearly half a million of its people lacking indoor plumbing?

Image credit: pixelpeda via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.