At least two things have happened to affect the ability of people to pay their energy bills in America. Millions of people are still out of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this was 7.7 million people in September. And, the cost of most forms of energy used to heat and cool homes has risen. Natural gas prices in the United States have doubled this year, and crude oil prices are up by even more.
To measure the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on American life, the Census launched the Household Pulse Survey in April 2020. A number of other federal agencies participate in the creation of the survey’s conclusion–Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Department of Defense (DOD), Energy Information Administration (EIA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/ASPE), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and USDA Economic Research Service (ERS).
The survey is reported in waves, which it calls weeks. The current “week” is Week 39. It covers the period from September 29 through October 11. The data are reported out by state and major metropolitan areas. Among the subjects covered are changes in education, childcare disruptions, loss of employment, working remotely, whether people have enough to eat, whether people have been vaccinated, whether they can pay mortgages or rent, and whether people are unable to pay their energy bills. The last of these is defined as: “Percentage of adults in households that were unable to pay an energy bill in full in the last 12 months.”
The state where the most people struggle with energy bills is Texas at 27.9%. This compares to a national average of 20.1%. The survey does not give a reason. However, a huge winter storm that hit the state in February caused a spike in the price of electricity
And, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has forecast:
We expect that the nearly half of U.S. households that heat primarily with natural gas will spend 30% more than they spent last winter on average—50% more if the winter is 10% colder-than-average and 22% more if the winter is 10% warmer-than-average.
It made similar forecasts for electricity, propane, and oil.
At the other end of the spectrum of people who can’t pay energy bills is Minnesota with the lowest national rate of 11.3%. Ironically, it is one of the coldest states in the nation.