Energy Cost Impacts on North Carolina Families

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1 Energy Cost Impacts on North Carolina Families Energy prices, high unemployment, and declining incomes are straining the budgets of North Carolina s lower- and middle-class families. North Carolina households with annual incomes below $50,000, representing 56% of North Carolina s population, spend an estimated average of 23% of their after-tax income on energy. Energy costs for the poorest households earning less than $10,000 represent 77% of their family incomes, before accounting for any state energy assistance. Increased energy costs are competing with other necessities for lower- and middle-income family budgets across North Carolina. 100% North Carolina Family Energy Costs as Percent of After-Tax Income 75% 77% 50% 25% 27% 19% 11% 0% <$10K $10-<$30K $30-<$50K >/=$50K Annual Household Income February

2 Energy Cost Impacts on North Carolina Families This paper assesses the impact of energy costs on North Carolina households using energy consumption survey data and current energy price data from the U.S. Department of Energy s Energy Information Administration (DOE/EIA). 1 Energy costs are summarized by household income group using North Carolina data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census. 2 Energy expenditures as a percentage of after-tax income are estimated for the effects of federal and state income taxes and federal social insurance payments. Key findings include: More than 56% of North Carolina s families have gross annual incomes of $50,000 or less, with an average after-tax income of $21,729. North Carolina s unemployment rate of 9.9% in December 2011 ranked 5th highest in the nation. The median household income of North Carolina families in 2010 was $43,326, 12% below the national median income. Measured in constant 1990 prices, residential electricity prices in North Carolina have declined by 24% since 1990, while the price of residential natural gas has increased by 21%. The relatively low cost of electric power is due in part to North Carolina s historic reliance on domestic coal for most of its electric generation. Energy costs are consuming the after-tax household incomes of North Carolina s low- and middle-income families at levels comparable to other necessities such as food and health care. North Carolina families spend an estimated average of 13% of their after-tax incomes on energy. The 2.1 million North Carolina households earning less than $50,000 devote an estimated 23% of their aftertax incomes to energy. The 939,000 North Carolina families with annual incomes of $10,000 to $30,000, more than one-quarter of the state s population, spend an estimated 27% of their after-tax family budgets on energy. The 329,000 poorest families in North Carolina, living well below the federal poverty line and earning less than $10,000 per year, are being squeezed hardest by energy cost increases. Many of these families receive state energy assistance to help reduce energy costs. Yet for most lower-income families and for 1.1 million North Carolina households receiving Social Security representing 30% of all North Carolina households rising energy costs are competing with other basic necessities for the family budget. 2

3 North Carolina Household Incomes U.S. Census Bureau data on North Carolina household incomes in 2010 (the most recent available) provide the basis for estimating the effects of energy prices on consumer budgets. 3 The table below shows estimated 2010 after-tax incomes for North Carolina families in different income brackets. The Congressional Budget Office has calculated effective total federal tax rates, including individual income taxes and payments for Social Security and other social welfare programs. 4 State income taxes are estimated from current North Carolina income tax rates. 5 North Carolina households by pre-tax and after-tax income, 2010 Pre-tax annual income: <$10K $10-<$30K $30-<$50K $50K Total/avg. Households (Mil.) Pct. of total households 9.0% 25.6% 21.7% 43.8% 100.0% Avg. pre-tax income $4,872 $19,747 $39,709 $102,642 $59,700 Effec. fed tax rate % 2.0% 9.1% 14.1% 23.2% 15.7% Est. state tax % 1.0% 3.0% 5.0% 6.0% 4.6% Est. after-tax income $4,726 $17,358 $32,124 $72,670 $47,589 More than 56% of North Carolina families had estimated pre-tax incomes below $50,000 in 2010, compared with 50% nationally. After federal and state taxes, these families had average annual incomes of $21,729, equivalent to an average monthly take-home income of $1,811. In 2010, the median household income of North Carolina families was $43,326, 12% below the national median household income of $49, In December 2011, North Carolina s unemployment rate of 9.9% ranked 5 th highest in the nation. 7 Residential and Transportation Energy Expenses The principal residential energy expenses are for electricity and natural gas for home heating, cooling, and household appliances. Many North Carolina homes also use propane fuel and other heating sources such as wood. As shown in Chart 1, the price of residential electricity in North Carolina has declined by 24% in real, inflation-adjusted terms since 1990, while the price of residential natural gas has increased by 21%. The inflation-adjusted 24% decrease in residential electricity prices since 1990 reflects, in part, North Carolina s historic reliance on low-cost coal for the majority of its electric energy supplies. In 2011, coal-based generation provided 52% of the state s electricity. 8 North Carolina s average residential electric rate in 2011, 10.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (measured in 2011 prices), was 13% below the U.S. average rate of 11.8 cents per kwh. 9 3

4 Chart 1 North Carolina Residential Natural Gas and Electricity Prices, (Constant 1990 $) Gas $/mcf and Electric cents/kwh Nat'l Gas Electricity Source: U.S. DOE/EIA (2011 data through Oct. 2011). Energy Expense Estimates Estimated household energy expenses for North Carolina are based upon DOE/EIA residential electric and natural gas sales data for North Carolina in Total household energy costs are distributed by income category using DOE/EIA residential energy survey data. Gasoline prices have declined from their 2008 peaks, but are above $3.50 per gallon in many areas. Gasoline accounts for the largest single increase in consumer energy costs since EIA s January 2012 Short-Term Energy Outlook projects 2012 average retail gasoline costs at $3.54 per gallon. In 2001, the average price of gasoline was $1.47 per gallon. The increase in gas prices follows a decade-long trend of increased market shares of pickup trucks and SUVs, and an increase in the average number of vehicles 4

5 owned per household. 11 trade-in values. Many families continue to own low-efficiency vehicles with low DOE/EIA s 2001 Survey of Household Vehicles Energy Use (2005) provides information on regional gasoline use by household income category. These regional gasoline consumption data are updated using EIA s 2012 national average retail gasoline price estimate of $3.54 per gallon. To be conservative, household gasoline consumption is reduced by 6.3% from 2001 levels, reflecting recent trends in the number of vehicle-miles driven annually per household. 12 The table below summarizes estimated North Carolina household energy expenses by income group, with the percentage of after-tax income represented by energy costs: Estimated North Carolina household energy costs by income category Pre-Tax Annual Income: <$10K $10-<$30K $30-<$50K $50K Average Residential energy $ $1,531 $1,739 $2,045 $2,545 $2,139 Electric $ $1,189 $1,385 $1,664 $2,062 $1,701 Natural Gas $ $159 $165 $177 $225 $191 Other* $ $183 $189 $204 $258 $220 Gasoline $ $2,099 $2,887 $3,921 $5,302 $4,097 Total energy $ $3,629 $4,626 $5,966 $7,847 $6,237 Energy % of after-tax income 77% 27% 19% 11% 13% *Other includes heating oil, propane gas, and wood. The share of household income spent for energy falls disproportionately on lower- and middle-income families earning less than $50,000 per year. The 25.6% of North Carolina households earning between $10,000 and $30,000 spend an estimated 27% of their after-tax income on energy. While many lower-income consumers qualify for energy assistance, these government programs are hard pressed to keep pace with the escalation of energy prices. In 2011, Congress reduced annual funding for the federal LIHEAP energy assistance program from $5.1 to $4.7 billion. Further LIHEAP funding reductions are possible. The average North Carolina family with an after-tax income of $47,589 spends an estimated $6,237 on energy, or 13% of the family budget. The 2.1 million North Carolina households earning less than $50,000, representing more than 56% of households, allocate 23% of their after-tax incomes to energy. The large share of after-tax income devoted to energy poses difficult budget choices among food, health care and other necessities. 5

6 Disproportionate Impacts on Senior Citizens The impacts of increased energy costs are falling disproportionately on North Carolina s 1.1 million households of Social Security recipients, representing 30% of the state s households. In 2010, Social Security recipients in North Carolina had an average household Social Security income of $16, Some 61% of these senior households had additional retirement income averaging $20,538. Unlike young working families with the potential to increase incomes by taking on part-time work or increasing overtime, many fixed income seniors are limited to cost-of-living increases that may not keep pace with energy prices. Maintaining the relative affordability of electricity and natural gas prices, and increasing low-income energy assistance, are essential to the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of North Carolina s senior and lower-income citizens. Conclusion The escalation of North Carolina consumer energy prices - together with declining income among middle-income households and high unemployment rates - underscore the need to find ways to reduce energy cost impacts on North Carolina families, especially lower- and fixed-income households. Acknowledgment: This paper was prepared for ACCCE by Eugene M. Trisko, an energy economist and attorney in private practice. Mr. Trisko has served as an attorney in the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission and as an expert economic witness before state public utility commissions. He represents labor and industry clients in environmental and energy matters. Mr. Trisko can be contacted at End Notes 1 Data on residential energy consumption patterns by income category are from U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2005 Survey of Residential Energy Consumption (RECS), available at North Carolina electricity, natural gas and other residential energy costs are based on 2011 state data (annualized based on data through October 2011) from U.S. DOE/EIA Electric Power Monthly (December 2011), Natural Gas Monthly (December 2011) and State Energy Data System data available at gasoline price projections are from DOE/EIA Short Term Energy Outlook (January 2012). 2 Household incomes in North Carolina by income category are derived from the distribution of household income in U.S. Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, North Carolina Selected Economic Characteristics: 2010 (2011). 3 Ibid. 6

7 4 Congressional Budget Office, Effective Federal Tax Rates Under Current Law, 2001 to 2014, (August 2004). Effective federal tax rates for the income categories employed in this paper were interpolated from CBO s tax rates by income quintile. 5 State tax data are estimated from state tax rates compiled by the Tax Foundation (2010). 6 U.S. Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, North Carolina Selected Economic Characteristics (2008 and 2010 eds.). 7 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (January 2012). 8 U.S. DOE/EIA, Electric Power Monthly (December 2011, annualized based on data through October 2011). 9 U.S. DOE/EIA, Electric Power Monthly (December 2011, annualized through October 2011). 10 Id., and U.S. DOE/EIA, Natural Gas Monthly (December 2011). 11 U.S. DOT, 2001 National Household Travel Survey, Summary of Travel Trends, (December 2004). 12 The Department of Transportation s 2009 National Highway Transportation Survey (2011) reports that average vehicle-miles traveled per household declined from 21,187 miles in 2001 to 19,850 miles in U.S. Census Bureau, North Carolina Selected Economic Characteristics: 2010 (2011). 7

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