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A researcher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health studied a hidden source of hardship: energy insecurity, the inability to adequately meet basic household energy needs, and its adverse environmental, health, and social consequences.

The study provides real-world examples of three dimensions of energy insecurity: economic, physical, and behavioral. This study is one of the first to examine how household utilities, which account for a large share of living expenses, are a critical measurement of material hardship.

Dr. Hernández conducted in-depth interviews with 72 low-income families from community health centers in the Boston area. Participants included those reporting at least one housing hardship, ranging from housing affordability, to frequent moves, to hazardous housing conditions and income at or below $32,000, which equals 150 percent of the 2008 federal poverty level. Heads of household ranged in age from 18 to 59, were mostly single mothers (97 percent), racial/ethnic minorities (47 percent African American; 29 percent Latino), with a high school education or higher (85 percent). The majority received housing subsidies (65 percent). Participants reported a wide range of household energy expenditures per month, reaching as high as $650 at the height of the heating season.

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