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MSU Study: Minorities pay more for water in Michigan

A sewage main for the Detroit sewer and water system.
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

A new study indicates racial minorities pay more for water and sewer service than whites in Michigan.

Michigan State University researchers looked at what people across the state paid for water and sewer service in 2000. Basic economic theory predicts that rural residents would pay the most for such services.

But the researchers found precisely the opposite to be true. Their results show that people in urban centers—with large minority populations—paid the most.

Stephen Gasteyer, an MSU sociology professor who conducted the study, says businesses and white residents have fled the state’s urban centers during the past 50 years—and the result is that some of the state’s poorest residents now bear the cost of maintaining the oldest and largest water systems.

“They’re left with unutilized infrastructure that has to be paid for in some way. And so you transfer that cost to the ratepayers.”

"It is, I suppose, the result of historic forces," Gasteyer adds. "But it has real consequences.”

Gasteyer says one of those consequences is that cost burden is likely to grow even greater in the coming years, as cities are forced to update aging infrastructure.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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