Metros with the most people without basic plumbing service, including piped drinking water and a toilet | News
More than 2 million people in the United States live in homes without running water or basic plumbing.
From New York City to the Navajo Nation, people across the country face climate-related water shortages, skyrocketing electric bills, aging or incomplete infrastructure, community disinvestment, and political inertia, all of which limit or completely eliminate access to vital water resources.
America’s water divide is exacting a significant price for the well-being of individuals and the wider economy. According to a June 2022 report by nonprofit organization DigDeep, more than $8.5 billion is lost annually through time spent collecting water, high health bills related to injuries, water-borne illnesses, and mental health issues related to water insecurity.
The water gap exists in all 50 states, from urban to remote communities, but it’s not socially or geographically random. Water insecurity is linked to other socioeconomic disparities and disproportionately impacts communities of color. According to DigDeep, Indigenous households are 19 times more likely to live without plumbing than white households. Black and Latino households are twice as likely.
While rural households are most likely to be without running water, the majority of Americans who live in homes without plumbing live in cities. Sanitation poverty in urban areas is getting worse. Researchers found that the average San Francisco renter who lived without tap water spent 44% of their income on rent in 2017. San Francisco water connection fees can cost thousands of dollars—a financial burden that low-income renters cannot afford and careless landlords may not want to pay.
While city dwellers considered “sanitation poor” remain hidden from all eyes, rural dwellers most affected by the water gap remain almost completely hidden from the nation’s collective consciousness. In colonies along the southwest Texas-Mexico border, tens of thousands of people live without access to running water or sanitation. Any water they can access is believed to be unsafe and contaminated with arsenic, E. coli and other harmful toxins.
Over the past 40 years, funding for federal water infrastructure has fallen from 63% to about 9%, leaving municipalities without the financial resources to modernize and expand water and sanitation systems. But the White House says the latest cash injection via President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Job Act will accelerate progress in prioritized, underserved communities.
Passed in November 2021, the law provides approximately $50 billion for programs to improve state and local drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency also distributed $154 million to Alaskan tribal areas and Native American villages. Average funding per state for all 50 states was $138.7 million.
Even for the millions of Americans with access to basic sanitation and running water, utility bills are prohibitive. A 2018 analysis by the Guardian found that in a sample of 12 major U.S. cities, water and sanitation bills had increased by an average of 80% in just eight years, with low-income households bearing the heaviest burden.
In 11 of the 12 cities included in the study, 100% of people with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty line could not afford their water bills. According to the study, water bills that exceed 4% of household income are considered unaffordable for this analysis. This problem does not only affect the lowest income households. Over the next eight years, average Americans, neglected by federal funds, are likely to feel the pressure of expensive utilities in cities with poor water quality and wasteful infrastructure.
Stacker identified the 10 U.S. metro areas most in need of complete sanitation based on the percentage of people on each subway without that basic access. Data is from the US Census Bureau’s five-year 2020 American Community Survey. The census question asks whether a dwelling has hot and cold running water, a bath or shower, and other questions about kitchen appliances. Puerto Rico was excluded from these results.
At the county level, the reasons why people do not have access to basic sanitation are not tracked accurately or consistently. Where we could find special features, we have listed them here. Where this was not possible, we have provided contextual information on the state of the water and sanitation infrastructure of this metropolitan area.
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