Income, Housing And Health: Poverty In The United States Through The Prism Of Residential Energy Efficiency Programs


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This paper explores the intersection of poverty, housing, and health among low-income weatherization program participants in the United States. These income-qualifying programs seek to reduce energy burden, which is the proportion of a household?s annual income spent on residential energy. These programs produce secondary benefits by reducing material deprivation, health inequalities, and energy poverty (which differs from energy burden in that it considers whether households are compressing their energy needs to meet what they can afford). This paper mines survey data from four evaluations of weatherization programs to provide new insights into the characteristics of households and their homes entering weatherization programs. These data allow assessments of similarities and differences by housing type (single-family, mobile home, and multifamily) and region that could then provide insights into health and social determinants of health non-energy impacts accruable by different weatherization programs. These data also provide an opportunity to assess more specific aspects of poverty and health. The results provide several important insights. One, contrary to expectations, households residing in mobile homes do not appear to be facing more hardship than those who live in singlefamily homes. Also contrary to expectations, households living in multifamily buildings appear to be facing less financial hardship and live in better housing conditions than their counterparts who live in single-family and mobile homes. Two, it was found that there are significant differences between household status within each program. Approximately 20-30% of households report significant material deprivation and poor health whereas 50-75% of households do not. Demographic analysis found that the former can be described as "near-elderly" with less employment prospects and less access to health care. A majority of the latter report being retired and therefore more likely to receive social security benefits and Medicare. Weatherization programs could move beyond limiting eligibility criteria to income poverty to better target their programs to households that suffer higher levels of financial hardship, material deprivation and health problems. The programs could also consider collaborating with the health care and public health sector to identify and refer households in most need of their services.
Energy poverty, Low-income weatherization, Material deprivation, Near-elderly wellbeing
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