Energy efficiency in cities is more than an environmental issue for low-income Latinos and other urban minorities: it could help stretched family budgets.

When it comes to those with the least means to pay for daily and monthly necessities, a lack of energy efficiency in America's major cities presents a disproportionate economic burden on low-income urban communities, as a recent report found.

The report, published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) coalition, found in a review of 48 major U.S. metropolitan areas that the economic burden of energy costs on low-income households can be up to three times higher than the overall burden on higher-income households.

This applies especially for low-income African American and Latino households, which spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy. In a hopeful note, the study also found that implementing more energy efficiency measures could close that gap by at least one third.

Big Takeaways

  •  Low-income households pay 7.2 percent of households income on utilities,
  •  That's three times more than higher income households pay (about 2.3 percent),
  •  Latino households experience the greatest energy burdens in the south and southwest United States,
  •  Midwest and Southeast regions had the highest energy burden across all demographics,
  •  Inefficient, out of date, low income housing contributes to the problem significantly,
  •  African American households experienced an average energy burden that was 64 percent greater than white households,
  •  Latino households paid lower utilities on average than African American and white households, but experienced an average energy burden 24 percent greater than white households,
  •  Renters pay 20 percent more than home owners, indicating rented homes tend to be less efficient.

Ranking Cities

Some cities across the U.S. fared better than others in measurements of energy efficiency and overall energy burden for residents, and the report pointed out the metropolitan areas with greater energy burdens depending on low-income demographics.

For Latinos, the greatest energy burdens were in the cities of Memphis, Providence, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Atlanta, Birmingham, Phoenix, Dallas, Fort Worth and Detroit.

For African American households, the worst energy burdens were in the cities of Memphis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Kansas City, Birmingham, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

The ACEEE found that increasing energy efficiency levels in average homes across the U.S. would eliminate about 35 percent of the average low-income energy burden in these areas. And for low-income Latino households, the average energy burden that could be eliminated through efficiency was a much greater share than any other group, at 68 percent.

Adrianna Quintero, executive director of Latino advocacy group Voces Verdes, responded to the report saying, "Increasing the energy efficiency of Latino households to the median level could cut their excess energy burdens by as much as a whopping 68 percent, putting more money in their pockets for things like food and medical expenses."

The report focused on 2011 data from the U.S. Census Bureau along with the 2013 American Housing Survey to determine the overall energy burdens for the 48 largest U.S. cities. The report defined low-income households as those with incomes at or below 80 percent of each area's median income, and focused on the relative burden for each demographic in those low-income communities.

The ACEEE study includes much more detail, along with policy and practical recommendations that could help increase energy efficiency in these areas, and reduce the burden it adds to low-income residents. You can request a copy of the report here.