The Facts

Household water insecurity is a problem in the United States. In 2016, 463,649 occupied households (an estimated 1.5 million people) lacked a plumbed connection to potable water or sewerage. While this figure is small relative to the national population (0.39 percent), the aggregate number of plumbing poor would be equivalent to the nation’s fifth largest city—a population size just above Phoenix, Arizona.


The Myths

Myth 1

Plumbing poverty is a rural problem.

Fact: The majority of households that lack complete plumbing are in metropolitan areas.

Among households with incomplete plumbing: 73% are located in metropolitan areas, 11% are in medium-sized cities, 7% are in small towns, and just 9% are in rural areas.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2016)


Myth 2

Plumbing poverty is just the lack of a proper toilet.

Fact: The majority of households that are water insecure lack hot and cold running water.

About one third of plumbing incomplete households lack all three amenities (29 percent).


Myth 3

The problem is just vacation homes.

Fact: Our analysis only includes occupied households. 

A household is classified as vacant if no one is living in it at the time of the Census interview, or if the household is occupied entirely by persons staying two months or less and who have a more permanent residence elsewhere. 

Including vacant homes would, in fact, boost the numbers of the plumbing poor. If vacant households were included in our analysis, the number of plumbing incomplete households would increase 5.7 times to 2,658,397 homes or 2% of all housing units. 



Myth 4

Plumbing incompleteness is just an issue in poor, white Appalachia. 

Fact: While there are clusters of plumbing poverty in Appalachia, the proportion is not significantly higher than other areas of the United States. Plumbing incomplete households are more likely to be found on Native American lands than in Appalachia.

The maps below show a higher concentration of plumbing incompleteness in tribal areas (map at left) than in Appalachia (map at right).

Source: US Census Bureau 2016

Source: US Census Bureau 2016


Myth 5

The problem is restricted to mobile homes.

Fact: Just 14 percent of households without complete plumbing are ‘trailers’ or mobile homes.  

The remaining 86 percent of homes without complete plumbing are single-unit homes or multi-family housing .

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