Americans living in nearly 500,000 homes in the US don't have what the New York Times—in an eye-opening piece—calls "basic dignity." That basic dignity includes running water, a bath or shower, or a working toilet. It's that last one plaguing rural black communities in the South, who are living in "deep, biting poverty" thanks in part to the still-lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow. One woman whose family makes just $12,000 a year can't afford the $6,000 it would cost for a functioning septic tank. Instead, she runs a pipe from her toilet to the woods behind her house. "The smell gets so bad," says another woman who uses the same system. "There's nothing we can do."
It's a problem without an easy solution. Without addressing deep-seated poverty, there will always be Americans who can't afford septic tanks or other sewage solutions. And with an impoverished tax base, municipalities can't afford to expand their sewer systems to cover rural homes. Meanwhile, it's a public health hazard for families already at risk due to poverty. Rain can cause makeshift sewer lines to back up into homes, and improperly disposed-of sewage can get into drinking water. While it's illegal to not have a functioning septic tank or sewer line, fining people isn't seen as a long-term solution. And it means people have ended up with criminal records simply because they are too poor to afford plumbing. Read the full story here.