what is plumbing incompleteness?

1,455,857 | 0.39% | Phoenix, AZ

Across the United States, 1,455,857 people (or 463,649 households) lack complete plumbing. That is 0.39 percent of the population. If all of the people without complete plumbing congregated together, the population would be the size of Phoenix, Arizona.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines complete plumbing facilities as (1) piped hot and cold water, (2) a flush toilet, and (3) a bathtub or shower, all located within the housing unit and used only by occupants.

U.S. Census Bureau (ACS) 2016

U.S. Census Bureau (ACS) 2016

As of 2016, the majority of households without complete plumbing lacked all three amenities or just hot and cold running water – both 29 percent. A large proportion also lacked just a bathtub or shower – 15 percent. One widespread myth is that the majority of those with incomplete plumbing only lack a flush toilet but the data do not suggest that. Rather, the majority of the plumbing poor in America lack all three amenities.

where do people lack complete plumbing?

First, despite what you may think – these households are not mostly in rural areas - only 9 percent are. This dispels a widely held myth that most plumbing incomplete households are in hard-to-reach rural areas. Seventy-three percent of these households are in large metros. As you can see – the urban-rural distribution of plumbing incomplete households is very similar to overall population trends.


Households with incomplete plumbing are not randomly scattered across the US. Rather they are clustered in particular areas. The map below shows the number of households within a given area without complete plumbing.

The Four Corners region - the location of a large Navajo Reservation stands out.

Importantly, these maps show that plumbing incompleteness is not spatially random. These patterns are only apparent because we have zoomed out to look at the entire country. The aggregate number of plumbing incomplete households across the United States is small enough to seem insignificant – 0.39 percent. However, 73 percent of the population in one neighborhood in northeastern Arizona lack complete plumbing - a major cause for concern that is hidden if we don’t pay attention to the geography.