Drive around the country and you’ll see great wealth: people living in incredible mansions with rolling, trimmed lawns, amazing new skyscrapers enhancing city skylines, and luxurious cars parked in circular driveways, to name just a few examples of that wealth.  All of these are typical of the opulence that exists in certain parts of America.  But often - sometimes within walking distance of them -there’s a very different side of modern society: poverty so extreme that it’s hard to believe that both exist in the same country at the same time.

Millions of Americans live in shocking conditions.  They have no electricity, no working bathrooms, and some don’t even have running water.  They carry the water they need to drink, cook, and wash in buckets.  Millions more do have running water, but it is contaminated.  

These shocking conditions are not limited to one city, one state, or even one region.  They exist across the country, and, according to a recent study, impact more than two million people in West Virginia, Alabama, Texas and the Navajo Nation Reservation in the Southwest.  The only “bathrooms” they have are the areas outside their homes.  And these problems are only getting worse. 

The study also found a clear correlation between this poverty and race.  African Americans and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be living without indoor plumbing and electricity, while Native Americans are in even more dire straits; they are ten times more likely to be living in these conditions. 

Assistance, Please

It’s very obvious that all these people need assistance on a magnitude only government can provide.  However, federal funding for water infrastructure has been declining for years, and today it is just a small percentage of what it once was.

“Access to clean, reliable running water and safe sanitation are baseline conditions for health, prosperity, and well-being,” DigDeep CEO George McGraw and US Water Alliance CEO Radhika Fox said. “However, they remain out of reach for some of the most vulnerable people in the United States.”

The two million number cited in the study includes 1.4 million people whose homes have no hot or cold running water, and that don’t even have a sink, shower, bath, or working commode.  In other words, there is not even a semblance of basic sanitation.

Unfortunately, people who can’t afford a home that has electricity and running water likely can’t afford essential medical care and medicine, food, clothing and other essentials.  They have no choice but to use areas outside their homes as bathrooms, and when human waste is not disposed of properly, this enables diseases thought eliminated long ago to return.

Flint’s Water Woes

The standard of living in America was at one time the envy of the world, but one wonders whether that’s changing.  Consider Flint, Michigan, as an example.  Flint hadn’t gotten into the news very often, but five years ago it made the headlines when it became known that residents were drinking water tainted with lead, bacteria and various harmful chemicals.  Experts traced an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease there to the water.  

Rather than warning residents about the dangers, officials manipulated test results, denied there was a problem, and even lied about it.  The EPA says the water in Flint is safe now, but some residents are not convinced, and neither are some experts. 

Daisy Luther, via the Organic Prepper Blog, writes that “microbiologists, infectious disease experts and officials (including Flint’s mayor) worry that harmful elements may still remain — and that state and federal regulators aren’t actively testing for them.”

Almost all fatalities from waterborne diseases in the United States are from legionella, and cases have been rising steadily since 2000, according to Mark LeChevallier, a scientist and retired water manager.  And testing for Legionella isn’t common.  Under both state and federal Safe Drinking Water Acts, government responsibility ends the moment water enters the pipes of a private home — where experts say deadly legionella bacteria are most likely to be found.  This explains why, despite assurances of officials, many of Flint’s residents still prefer bottled water over tap water.

Many other cities also have found dangerously high levels of water contamination, including Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Detroit, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.  

California Dreamin’, Not

The lack of clean water and electricity is no longer limited to very poor areas of America.  To the shock of many, parts of California are now subject to planned power blackouts by PG&E, the local utility, to help prevent wildfires. 

As a result, millions of Californians have found themselves in the dark and with no access to running water or usable bathrooms.  Schools and businesses were forced to close, millions lost income in the process, and millions more also suffered losses because of food that spoiled.

Cell phones and other forms of communication that need power couldn’t be used.  Radio and TV stations and internet providers also ran out of backup power.  Residents who depended on those could not even be updated as to what was happening or alerted to emergency instructions.

For a growing number of people, the standard of living in America is declining in front of our eyes, and is now more typical of conditions in a third world country.  And no one knows how to reverse this trend.  What happens next and where this leads to is anyone’s guess.  


Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.