Pockets of Populations Living Without Basic Plumbing

By Cecilia Watt

Investigation

The United States is, for the most part, a relatively wealthy, developed nation. And most Americans live in the kind of housing structures you’d expect to find in a relatively wealthy, developed nation: the kind with indoor plumbing. Ever since the Great Depression and the housing crisis it caused, the U.S. Census Bureau has been compiling data on the types of houses Americans live in: when they were built, how much they cost, and other information that allows the government to assess the quality of the country’s housing stock. To the Census Bureau, a house with “complete plumbing facilities” is one that has hot and cold running water, a bathtub or shower, and a toilet that flushes. More than 99 percent of the country’s occupied households have complete plumbing facilities.

But over 1.5 million Americans don’t. To find out who they are and where they live, we looked at data from the 2013 American Community Survey, one of the methods the Census Bureau uses to track housing statistics. We looked at the survey results on the census tract level, and we tried to identify geographic regions where lots of homes were lacking plumbing.

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