A perfect storm? COVID-19 cuts incomes and hikes home energy bills
(ACEEE blog, 15 May 2020) Before the COVID-19 crisis, one-third of American households faced difficulty affording their energy bills, some having to choose among key necessities such as food, medicine, and keeping the lights on. Now as they shelter in place and many lose their jobs and sources of income, we expect household energy costs to rise, adding another stressor to the current economic crisis.
Our pre-COVID research found that about 30 million U.S. households experience high energy burdens. A household’s energy burden is the percentage of income spent on energy bills, and academics consider spending more than 6% of income on energy a high or unaffordable burden. High energy burdens hit low-income households particularly hard, and these burdens are associated with increased stress, negative health impacts, and cycles of poverty. Those with disproportionally high burdens include African American and Hispanic households, renters, older Americans, and those residing in affordable multifamily buildings.
These highly burdened communities are also the most affected by COVID-19, which research has found disproportionally impacts communities of color, especially black communities. Researchers found that pre-existing conditions related to air pollution increase the risk of a COVID-19 death, and black communities are disproportionally impacted by polluting facilities. Therefore, some of those most impacted by COVID-19 may have already been struggling to pay energy bills, which may now become even more difficult to afford.