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Utility Costs Higher For Minorities: Study

Utility Costs

First Posted: 11/29/11 04:53 PM ET Updated: 12/01/11 12:33 AM ET

Whether you see the glass as half empty or half full, it's going to cost you more to do so as a minority, according to researchers at Michigan State University.

Sociologists there say that racial minorities pay more for basic water and sewer services than white people, though the findings aren't based on racism. Stephen Gasteyer, a sociologist and co-author of the study, points instead to the fact that white people are fleeing from urban areas and leaving minority residents to absorb the costs of maintaining aging water and sewer infrastructure.

"People of color have the fewest opportunities to leave urban centers and are left to pay for the crumbling legacy of a bygone economic era," Gasteyer said in a release.

He and colleague Rachel Butts analyzed Census data on self-reported water and sewer costs in Michigan and found that urban residents pay more for these basic services than rural residents. What's more, water and sewer services cost more in areas with greater proportions of racial minorities, a problem Gasteyer and Butts refer to as "structural inequality."

Detroit residents are especially vulnerable to it, Gasteyer says, having lost more than 60 percent of its population since 1950 (some quarter-million people packed up and moved away between 2000 and 2010, according to The Huffington Post). The city is also said to be losing billions of gallons of water through leaks in the aging lines every year and functioning under federal oversight since 1977 for wastewater violations.

"A fair proportion of Detroit's large low-income population cannot afford the burden of rate increases meant to offset infrastructure repairs, leading to tens of thousands of customers getting their water turned off every year," Gasteyer said.

Incidentally, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced plans to cut 1,000 city jobs by next year and freeze all civil service positions except the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Gasteyer and Butts' findings are slated to appear in an upcoming issue of the research journal Environmental Practice.

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Filed by Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson  |