The Pew Research Center’s excellent FactTank blog reported Tuesday that the Census Bureau is considering dropping a number of questions from its American Community Survey. The ACS has been a perennial target of Republican lawmakers, who say that its questions on everything from household income to commute times constitute an invasion of privacy.
Perhaps hoping to stave off some of these concerns, the bureau is reviewing a number of questions, including the one that has been subject to the most ridicule from the right: Housing questions 8a-8c, which cover the plumbing facilities in a household, including the presence (or lack thereof) of a “flush toilet.” Setting aside privacy issues for the moment, can such a question possibly have relevancy in the year 2014? Or to put it more bluntly: Who doesn’t have a flushing toilet?
As it turns out, a lot of people. According to the latest American Community Survey, nearly 630,000 occupied households lack complete plumbing facilities, which means that they are without one or more of the following: a toilet, a tub or shower, or running water. The Census Bureau says that the average household contains 2.6 individuals, which means that today, in 2014, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, upwards of 1.6 million people are living without full indoor plumbing.
As the map below shows, there is considerable geographic variation. Counties containing Indian reservations have astonishingly high percentages of households without plumbing — 14 percent of households in Shannon County, S.D., don’t have full plumbing. In Apache County, Ariz., the rate is more than 17 percent. Sparsely-populated census areas in Alaska also have very high percentages.