In Just Five Years, 1 in 3 Americans Won’t Be Able to Afford Clean Water

Last spring, roughly 23,000 residents in Detroit were at risk of having their water services turned off after the Detroit Water and Sewage Department found a number of utility bills had gone unpaid. An average of $663 was owed for each household, and despite being given extensions on setting payment plans, thousands were simply unable to do so.

Other cities, like Pittsburgh, are experiencing similar crises. Nearly 45,000 residents and business were reportedly behind on their water bills, amounting to over $32 million in unpaid utilities.

When one thinks about access to clean and affordable water, the United States typically does not come to mind. But now it is becoming a major problem and according to a stunning new study, it is going to worsen significantly over the coming five years.

Researchers at Michigan State University, noticing the growing number of cities confronting the matter of thousands of delinquent water payments, sought to calculate how such trends would evolve over the coming years.

Today, Americans’ average water bill hovers around $120 every month. Already not a small cost, it is set to grow substantially; according to this new study, the cost of these bills will grow by $49 by 2022.

Nearly 12 percent of American households, like the thousands in Detroit and Pittsburgh, are currently unable to afford to keep their water on. With water costs set to rise rapidly in just a few short years, more than 35 percent of Americans – over 113 million people – could find themselves living without water.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, different groups of Americans will not bear the brunt of this impending crisis equally. Michigan State University’s study projects that of those who will be unable to afford their water, one-third will be black and over one-fifth will be Hispanic.

Also rather unsurprising is that two-fifths in this group will be those who have not achieved at least a bachelor’s degree.

Clean water is a human right; this is not up for debate. Given that we are aware that there is significant catastrophe on the horizon, now is the time for action. So what can be done?

There are a few straightforward routes that can be taken to avoid this reality.

One, though highly unlikely considering the political hostility to such practices, would be the nationalization of water utilities. Given that such a step, at least on a national scale, seems highly unlikely, a middle ground could be found: Households determined to be at risk or being unable to afford their water could have their bills at least partially subsidized.

This is already done for other essential household expenses like milk and foods; why not clean water?

Another solution could come from simply ensuring Americans’ paychecks are large enough so as to make water costs a non-issue. This could be accomplished by both raising the minimum wage federally and making higher education financially accessible. It is not a coincidence that those without college degrees will take up the largest chunk of those unable to afford water by 2022 – these are the individuals who will be working minimum wage jobs.

The United States prides itself on its fortunes and high standard of living, but when one-in-three Americans will soon be unable to afford even the basic necessity of running water, there is no room to be apathetic.

Photo Credit: valdore / Thinkstock

93 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y7 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J7 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Monica D
Monica Dabout a year ago

Noted.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Nancy W
Nancy W1 years ago

Picturing Nestle waiting to cash in.

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Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T1 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Beth D
Beth D1 years ago

I've been voicing concern over clean water for decades now. And here we are, waking up to the fact we've wasted the most precious resource, for decades now. the aquifers are drying up. the waste from fracking is outrageous. From factory farms run off, look at how we contaminate, from coal, from industry. WE have to stop and soon. The pipes in this whole country are lead, and old and we are feeling the effects. Even if we can save our environment and water, do we not contaminate it in these pipes? There's the infrastructure we are so desperate for, but it won't happen. The republicons want to eliminate the EPA, so goes all regulations. Once they have destroyed, they will privatize to "fix" things (so that's the story they'll try to tell us...) then we will all pay too much like this article says. It's not too late, we still have time to fight this.

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