BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A new report from researchers in the Energy Justice Lab at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University found concerning rates of energy insecurity and utility disconnection and households carrying high amounts of debt, particularly among low-income households. The Household Energy Insecurity Tracking Survey Wave 1 Report, led by O’Neill School professors Sanya Carley and David Konisky, is the first in a project that will span the next two years, with new survey-based findings released quarterly. The survey, given to low-income residents across the U.S. charts their ability to pay energy bills, rates of disconnection, sociodemographics, and more.
“When the pandemic started in early 2020, we knew that energy insecurity would be a major concern,” said Carley. “But the current numbers that we gathered over the last three months are the most staggering yet. What we found is nothing short of tragic.”
Carley, Konisky, and the O’Neill School research group they lead, the Energy Justice Lab, have closely monitored rates of energy insecurity across low-income households since the pandemic began in early 2020. This newly released research, detailing conditions faced by households from November 2021 - January 2022, is the result of surveying 1,000 people across the U.S. who live within 200 percent of the federal poverty line.
Key findings in the first report include:
- 28 percent couldn't pay an energy bill
- 20 percent received a notice for disconnection
- 13 percent were disconnected by their utility
Additionally, the research found further concerning factors, including:
- 22 percent had to forgo expenses "on multiple occasions" (15 percent) or "all of the time" (6 percent)
- 37 percent gave up energy needs for other expenses or vice versa
- The average level of utility debt was $129.
“Rates of energy insecurity have risen, especially for households of color and families with young children,” Konisky said. “We’re seeing troubling consequences, including circumstances where households are forced to live under potentially dangerous temperatures and forgo other expenses just to keep their lights on.”
Data from the report show people of color are the most affected when asked about their ability to pay energy bills, and they are more likely to experience disconnections from service from their utility. Energy assistance is available, but the research found, of two government programs included in the survey, only 1 percent of respondents received Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) support and 9 percent of respondents received Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) support.
The Household Energy Insecurity Tracking Survey Wave 1 Report is the first in a series from Carley, Konisky, and their team at the O’Neill School collected from surveys fielded by YouGov will be released quarterly for the next two years. The reports are also included on the project’s website. Both Carley and Konisky are available for media interviews.
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Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs | Indiana University
About the Energy Justice Lab
The Energy Justice Lab at Indiana University is a research group conducting studies about the equity and justice dimensions of the clean energy transition. Through research, the lab offers insights on what energy justice means as it relates to the energy transition and what individuals and communities on the frontlines are facing, what vulnerability means in the energy justice context, what types of policies and programs are in place to address these issues and how well government is doing to protect vulnerable communities.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2022 "Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs" by U.S. News & World Report, the O'Neill School is one of the top-ranked programs in the country. Five of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including top-ranked concentrations in environmental policy and management; nonprofit management; and public finance.