Energy insecurity, or the inability to pay one’s energy bills, is a problem facing millions of American households. This talk present results from an ongoing, four-wave survey of low-income U.S. households that evaluates the prevalence of energy insecurity, the factors that contribute to it, and how the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Our study finds that energy insecurity is highly prevalent among households within 200 percent of the federal poverty line. We further show substantial sociodemographic disparities in energy insecurity. Black and Hispanic households are more likely to experience energy insecurity and face utility disconnection, as are households with young children, individuals who require electronic medical devices, and those living in energy inefficient dwellings. These findings are consistent across three distinct measures of energy insecurity, and hold for both chronic and acute forms of energy insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has, moreover, both exacerbated such disparities and contributed to the incidence of energy insecurity through COVID-related unemployment and material hardship.

Dr. Sanya Carley is a Paul H. O’Neill Professor and Director of the Master of Public Affairs programs at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Her research focuses on electricity and transportation policy, energy justice and a just transition, energy-based economic development, and public perceptions of energy infrastructure and technologies. She is a coeditor of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. She received her Ph.D. in public policy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and bachelor’s degrees in economics and sustainable development from Swarthmore College.

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