At least two things have happened to affect the ability of people to pay their energy bills since COVID-19 began. And in Texas — the state where the most people struggle with energy bills — one more thing did.
Nationwide, millions of people are still out of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.4 million people were unemployed in October. Also, 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 U.S. Census Bureau began conducting the Household Pulse Survey in April 2020. A number of other federal agencies participate — Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Defense, Energy Information Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and USDA Economic Research Service.
The survey is reported in waves, dubbed weeks. The current “week,” week 39, covers the period from Sept. 29, 2021 through Oct. 11, 2021. The data are reported by state and major metropolitan areas.
Among the subjects covered are changes in education, child care 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 reports the number, and 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, where 27.9% of adults lived in households that were unable to pay an energy bill in full. 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 in the state.
In its Winter Fuels Outlook, the EIA has forecast that nearly half of U.S. households that heat primarily with natural gas will spend 30% more on average than they spent last winter. If the winter is 10% colder than average, that figure would jump to 50% more, and if the winter is 10% warmer than average, the figure would decline to 22% more. The EIA made similar forecasts for electricity, propane, and oil. These are the coldest places in America today.
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% of adults living in households that can’t pay their energy bill. Ironically, it is one of the coldest states in the nation. This is how global warming is affecting every state.