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Almost 20% of US Households Past Due on Utility Bills

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 26, 2022
20% of US households are past due on utility bills.
Almost 20 percent of U.S. households are past due on utility bills thanks to basic goods inflation, the impact of COVID-19 lockdown measures, high gasoline prices, and an uptick in electricity and natural gas prices. (Image: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels)

Nearly a fifth of American households are past due on utility bills, states an NGO, as the world enters an economic situation somewhere between a recession and a depression.

The National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) was paraphrased as describing the situation as “the worst crisis the group has ever documented” in Aug. 23 comments to Bloomberg revealing the statistic.

Data shared illustrated that the total overdue utility balance across all households piled up to $16 billion, up from $14 billion from January and $13.1 billion from December of 2021.

NEADA added that the average balance owed is also up a staggering 97 percent compared to 2019.

Aug. 24 reporting by Business Insider shared additional information from NEADA on the subject, such as the fact that lower income households have been hit the hardest, with 40 percent of all low income households having fallen behind on at least one payment this year.

BI adds that a third of U.S. households have reduced basic necessity spending on items such as food and medicine in order to cover a utility bill.


Bloomberg recounted an anecdote shared with the outlet. One woman who shares an apartment in Minneapolis with her son had racked up $3,000 in overdue electrical bills and their accompanying “FINAL NOTICE” warnings before finally having service cut.

Although the warnings “had prepared her to some degree,” Bloomberg described the woman’s reaction as finding it “still jarring to find the fridge dark and the air conditioner silent.” 

“With temperatures set to reach 95F (35C) in the coming days, she needed the power back on, and fast,” the article added.

The article explained that the 45-year-old is a housecleaner by profession, whose business tanked when governments issued lockdowns and corporations declared work from home edicts during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

And although society has returned to a state of normalcy resembling its pre-COVID era, because of the massive rise in gasoline prices, the cost of driving her Saturn sedan to clients’ homes now exceeds $200 a month, in addition to electrical bills that are up in some cases more than 20 percent.

The subject is not entirely news. As far back as February, the Poynter Institute warned that U.S. consumers were already falling behind on their utilities as inflation began to sink its teeth into the middle class.

Jim Sweeney, described as a “journalist friend” of author Al Tompkins, recounted the anecdote of a payment assistance insert enclosed in his monthly Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission bill.

“One in five customers is past due on their bills — equating to more than 90,000 delinquent accounts totaling more than $70 million in arrears,” read the insert.

The NEADA website shared a July 19 CNN Business article that elucidated how some hit by soaring energy bills have their day to day lives impacted.

In one case, a 65-year-old retired Chicago woman had her power cut off a month earlier in June after building up a $500 outstanding balance, which she had to use her savings to settle.

The problem is, because the woman is living on a fixed income, she can’t afford to splurge again.

“Even when the temperature soars into the 90s, Linda Morris won’t turn on her air conditioning until she feels she’s about to faint,” the article reads.

It continues, “Instead, the retired postal worker tries to escape the heat in the unfinished basement of her Hickory Hills, Illinois, home. She brought down a chair so she can read there…And, to avoid using her stove while upstairs, she makes sandwiches and warms up food in the microwave.”

The situation is not limited to the United States. Earlier in the month in the United Kingdom, a protest dubbed Don’t Pay UK sought to amass a group of a million citizens who would cancel direct debit payments to utilities providers in October to protest high prices in an attempt to force the government to intervene.

By the first week of August, the movement had garnered more than 90,000 signatories pledging to take the combined action.

But three weeks later, that number is only up to slightly less than 115,000.