Americans don’t have equal access to good infrastructure - Mobility Lab

As part of Infrastructure Week 2018, this is the first article of a three-part series on equitable infrastructure by Brookings fellow Adie Tomer. It was originally published here.

As we go about our daily lives, Americans have simple expectations for infrastructure: we want services that work. We want lights to turn on when we flip a switch, we want clean water to run out of our taps, we want web pages to load when we turn on our computers and smartphones, and we want roads and rails to be open to traffic. We want physical access to high-quality infrastructure, which offers safe, convenient, reliable, and affordable options.

When the power is on, water is clean, data can flow, and people and goods can move, infrastructure serves as the foundation in our economic Hierarchy of Needs. But that foundation is only as strong as the number of people it serves. If everyone cannot connect to essential infrastructure—or if those connections are not of a certain quality—we risk disabling economic opportunity for the disconnected.

These kinds of access inequities can be seen when comparing the two most essential infrastructure systems: water and electricity. Surveys find electricity is technically available to every household, and utilities consistently deliver reliable service, meaning the service is nearly always “on.” The average American customer faces 1.34 outages a year, a number that’s been slowly rising, but still equates to only about 2.5 hours of lost service all year (or 0.03 percent of all hours). By contrast, about one percent of all homes lack plumbing facilities, according to the American Housing Survey. This equates to over a million households, and the rates are even higher among black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and multi-race households. Even more troubling is the quality of that water. Just 92 percent of households report safe drinking water across all racial groups, with even lower rates again among nonwhite households.

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