Survey: Millions of Americans Struggling to Keep Up With Rising Energy Costs

In this Guide...

Analysis of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data shows around a quarter of Americans reduced or skipped basic expenses such as food or medicine to pay an energy bill in the past year. Our report highlights the residents of states who are struggling the most.

Family struggling to pay bills
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Key Findings

 

  • 24% of Americans reduced or forwent basic expenses such as food and medicine so they could pay their energy bill in the last 12 months.

  • 16% of adults report having kept their home at a temperature that felt unsafe or unhealthy in the past year due to rising energy costs.

  • One in six people have been unable to pay the full amount of their energy bill at least once in the past year.

  • In some states, the percentages of residents sacrificing basic expenses to pay energy bills is significantly higher than the national averages. 
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Study Overview

Energy prices around the world are on the rise, and many Americans are having trouble keeping up. 

Citing a combination of factors including the post-pandemic rebound of energy markets, a lingering supply and demand imbalance and a harsh winter forecast for the northern hemisphere, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts U.S. households will spend more money on heating costs this winter. 

Expected increases include a 30% rise in the cost of natural gas, for which nearly half of U.S. homes use as an energy source and a commodity that has already doubled in price since last year. Electric heat, which is used in roughly one-third of American homes, is projected to rise 6%. 

“As we have moved beyond what we expect to be the deepest part of the pandemic-related economic downturn, growth in energy demand has generally outpaced growth in supply. The higher global and domestic energy prices that are resulting from economies beginning to grow again are going to translate into larger household bills for energy this winter.” – EIA Acting Administrator Steve Nalley

Fewer people use propane or heating oil systems, but those who do can expect to see surges of 54% and 43%, respectively in their energy costs this winter. 

For many, those increasing costs are leading to increased sacrifices. In analyzing the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, we uncovered the number of Americans in each state who have struggled over the past 12 months to pay their energy bill, which could include heat or air conditioning expenses. 

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24 Percent of Americans Reduced or Skipped Basic Expenses to Pay An Energy Bill in the Past 12 Months

Roughly one in four Americans reduced or went without basic expenses such as food or medicine in the last year in order to pay an energy bill.

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Graphic table showing Percentage of Americans who went without basic expenses due to energy costs

In all, 28 states experienced rates that were equal to or higher than the national average. In Arkansas, 33.1% of residents have reduced or gone without basic expenses to pay an energy bill at least once in the past 12 months. 

Arkansas, New Mexico, Mississippi, and West Virginia each saw more than 30% of residents report this level of foregoing basic needs. In 25 states, at least a quarter of residents reported the same.   

7% of respondents across the country reported making such a sacrifice almost every month. 

Vermont and Washington, D.C. were the only two areas where fewer than 15% of adults reported making such sacrifices in the past year.

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One In Six Americans Were Unable to Pay the Full Amount of an Energy Bill in the Last Year

More than one out of six U.S. adults have been unable to pay the full amount of an energy bill at least once in the last 12 months. 

More than one in five adults in 11 states reported not being able to pay the full amount of an energy bill.

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Graphic table showing Percentage of Americans unable to pay an energy bill in past year by state

Minnesota and Washington, D.C. the only two areas where 10% of residents or fewer reported being unable to pay their energy bill.

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More Than One in Six Americans Regularly Kept Their Home at a Temperature That Felt Unsafe or Unhealthy

15.5% of Americans have kept their home at a temperature that felt unsafe or unhealthy for at least some of the past 12 months.  

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Percentage of Americans who kept home at unsafe temperature due to energy costs by state

Respondents in 23 states reported making such a sacrifice at a rate higher than the national average, led by New Mexico (20.9%), West Virginia (19.7%), California (19.6%), Alabama (18.3%), Mississippi (18.2%), South Carolina (17.9%) and Nevada (17.5%).  

Less than 11% of respondents in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. reported making such a sacrifice in the past year.  

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Affordable Housing Resources and Help for Paying Bills

Here are some resources that may be helpful to anyone struggling to pay their energy bills. Many energy companies offer their own assistance programs to customers, so be sure to contact your provider for information about any programs they may offer. 

  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
    This program provides federally-funded assistance to help families manage costs associated with home energy bills, energy crises, weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    TANF is a federally-funded, state-operated program that helps families achieve independence after experiencing difficulties and can assist with home energy costs among other expenses. 

  • 211
    211 is a comprehensive source of information about local resources and can connect people to various programs and services within their community that offer assistance paying for home utility bills among other things. 

  • Dollar Energy Fund
    The Dollar Energy Fund is a non-profit organization that works to alleviate financial hardships by providing utility assistance and other services. 

  • Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy (CARE)
    CARE is a 24-month affordable payment plan helping people stay on top of their home energy bills. 

  • Emergency Rental Assistance programs from U.S. Department of the Treasury
    Use this directory to find federally funded rental assistance programs in your state, territory or tribe and Tribally Designated Housing Entity.

  • Local Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Counselors
    You can find HUD counselors in your community who can help you navigate any benefits you may be eligible for, and they can help pair you with local resources to help with your housing needs.

  • U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Help for Renters
    You may qualify for help paying rent or protection from eviction. Some additional protections may still be available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Medicare Extra Help
    Find out if you qualify for Extra Help (also called the Medicare low income subsidy, or LID), which can help pay your prescription drug costs if you're eligible.

  • Medicare-Medicaid Special Needs Plans (SNPs)
    If you're eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, you may be able to enroll in a special type of Medicare health plan called a Medicare Special Needs Plan (SNP). Medicare SNPs are a type of Medicare Advantage plan designed to pay your prescription drug costs and most – if not all – of your covered medical expenses. If you have Medicare and Medicaid, you may qualify for a Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plan (D-SNP).
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Conclusion

A high number of U.S. adults are having difficulty paying their energy bills and are either not paying the full amount of the bill, making financial sacrifices in other areas to pay their energy bill or keeping their home at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures in an effort to minimize their bill. 

With energy costs rising this winter, millions of Americans are struggling to stay warm. 

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Methodology

The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, specifically Week 42 (Jan. 26 through Feb. 7, 2022), the most recent data available.

The data includes the percentage of respondents who answered either “almost every month,”  “some months” or “1-2 months” for various questions related to difficulties paying their energy bills during the past 12 months.

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