Household energy insecurity impacts millions of U.S. households every year. Energy insecurity, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, includes three conditions: (1) a difficulty paying energy bills (2) reduced or forewent basic necessities like food and medicine to pay an energy bill, or (3) kept home at an unsafe temperature because of energy cost concerns.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) has a statutory mandate to conduct an ongoing research program to determine the effects (including socioeconomic and environmental effects) of national energy programs, policies and regulations on communities of color. In addition, the Office shall (1) determine the average energy consumption and use patterns of minorities relative to other population categories; (2) evaluate the percentage of disposable income spent on energy by minorities relative to other population categories; and (3) determine how programs, policies, and actions of the Department and its components affect such consumption and use patterns and such income. The results of this analysis respond to this mandate and highlight the household energy insecurity disparities currently experienced by communities of color in the United States.

As of May 2023, nearly 26% of all U.S. households reported experiencing energy insecurity almost every month, some months, or 1-2 months within the last year. According to responses collected between July 2021 and May 2023 by the Household Pulse Survey, a “20-minute online survey studying how the coronavirus pandemic and other emergent issues impacted households across the country from a social and economic perspective”, these energy insecurity measures have dropped as low as 22% in the last 2 years. These improvements in energy insecurity further build upon what was reported in the previous iterations of the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), when 27% of U.S. households reported similar issues in 2020 and 31% reported similar issues in 2015.

When considering the sociodemographic segmentation of respondents, households that self-identified as Black, Hispanic, or ‘2 or more races’ continue to experience energy insecurity at disproportionately higher rates than households self-identifying as White or Asian. The table below provides the average shares of U.S. households experiencing any energy insecurity as reported across the 24 data cycle iterations of the Household Pulse Survey. The former segmentation experienced energy insecurity at an average rate of 35% (or slightly above 1 in 3 households), while the latter saw an average just below 20% (or approximately 1 in 5 households). Furthermore, certain demographic groups reported more instances of energy insecurity, including lower income households, households with children or older family member(s) present, and renters, indicating a very strong correlation between energy insecurity and sociodemographic characteristics.

The Household Pulse Survey

*The Household Pulse Survey dataset is an experimental product, and as such, it does not meet all of the U.S. Census Bureau’s data publication standards. As noted in the U.S. Census Bureau’s technical documentation and nonresponse bias report, the Household Survey Pulse data are subject to nonresponse bias and non-sampling errors.

The federal government offers two longstanding programs to help address in energy insecurity: the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program. Please click on each link to learn more.

ED’s Office of Energy Justice Policy and Analysis  conducts research and evaluation, policy analysis, and administers programs to advance equity, and environmental and energy justice for minority communities and disadvantaged individuals.

To learn more about our efforts, visit the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and Energy Justice websites.

Contributor: Alvin Bates