San Francisco

Wealthy US cities are struggling to provide running water for all residents

By Ian Morse

Some San Francisco residents are deprived of water

Wenjie Dong / Getty Images

Growing gaps in prosperity in some of the wealthiest cities in the United States have resulted in an increase in the number of households without running water.

Public information shows that around half a million households – around 1.1 million people – live without tap water in the US, which puts them in “poverty poverty”. Surveys also show that 73 percent of these households live in metropolitan areas.

To conduct further research, Katie Meehan of King’s College London – previously at the University of Oregon – and her colleagues analyzed U.S. census data and information on the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, collected during the government’s American Community Survey between 2013 and 2017 .


This showed that San Francisco in California, Portland in Oregon, and Austin in Texas are among the cities with the highest poverty rates. New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco – among the richest US cities – had the most residents without a full installation.

Meehan and her colleagues say that there is a strong link between this poverty poverty and growing income inequality in cities.

They found that for every 10 percent increase in income inequality in the 50 largest metropolitan areas, as measured by a standard statistical metric called the Gini coefficient, households were 1.5 times more likely to be missing “full plumbing” – defined as a home supplied by either hot and cold tap water with bath or shower that is only used by inmates.

“Areas marked by income inequality are where we see some of the highest rates of poverty poverty,” says Meehan.

In addition, people without access to tap water were significantly more likely to live in rented accommodation and use more than a third of their income to pay rent.

Urban black-headed households are nearly 35 percent more likely to lack tap water than households run by non-Hispanic whites.

Although surveys show that nearly half a million U.S. households do not have access to water, Meehan says that is likely an undercount, as census surveys routinely have trouble tracking renters, the homeless, and blacks.

“I think water access conditions are actually going to get worse, and the places that I think they’re going to get worse are not the places we think of first, like the San Francisco’s, the Portlands or the Los Angeles, “she says.

Focusing on individual cities and households will reveal exactly what is causing water insecurity, says Meehan. “This is the next step in research.”

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2007361117

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