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Home » News » Amidst Bitter Cold and Rising Energy Costs, New Concerns About Energy Insecurity 02/13/2014

Amidst Bitter Cold and Rising Energy Costs, New Concerns About Energy Insecurity

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With many regions of the country facing an unrelenting cold snap, the problem of energy insecurity continues to go unreported despite its toll on the most vulnerable. In a new brief, researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health paint a picture of the families most impacted by this problem and suggest recommendations to alleviate its chokehold on millions of struggling Americans. The authors note that government programs to address energy insecurity are coming up short, despite rising energy costs.

Energy Insecurity (EI) is measured by the proportion of household energy expenditures relative to household income. Lower-income families are more likely to experience EI because they tend to live in housing that has not benefited from the structural improvements that wealthier Americans can afford. “While economic energy insecurity is experienced across the spectrum, it disproportionately affects those who are poorest, who are nearest the poverty line,” says Yumiko Aratani, PhD, acting director for health/mental health at Columbia Mailman School's National Center for Children in Poverty.  

“We hope that our discussion of energy insecurity will galvanize policy-makers to study this problem further and take steps to ameliorate its affects.”

The brief, Energy Insecurity among Families With Children, uses the latest and most comprehensive data available to describe the extent of EI by family income, demographic characteristics, and geographic area. The authors define economic EI as the disproportionate share of household income allocated to energy expenses among families with children. Those with more than 10 percent of energy burden are characterized as “energy insecure.”  

Some key findings from the report:

  • More than half of families affected by economic EI are living in poverty (under 100% of the federal poverty level) and about one third are extremely poor.
  • Approximately half of all households facing economic EI are Black/African American, and about one-third are white.
  • Geographically, the largest proportion (46%) of children in households with economic EI resides in the South.
  • Over half of families with economic EI are renters; 41 percent are homeowners.

The authors note that the main safety net program for EI, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), covers only a fraction of the ov