September 19, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

When it comes to inflation, two costs hit us all: food and electricity. Everyone needs both. You might not be so worried about the price of a new car or an airplane ticket — maybe you can avoid those — but electricity prices have risen 15.8% in the last year.

Power companies switched to once cheap and plentiful natural gas to produce 40% of the electricity used in the U.S., but natural gas prices have skyrocketed.

The National Energy Assistance Directors Association says the worst may be ahead of us. NEADA’s headline is, “Home Heating Costs Reach Highest Level in More than 10 Years. Families will Pay 17.2% More for Home Heating this Winter.”

The average heating cost for homes last winter was $1,025. This winter, the NEADA projects households will pay $1,202 on average.

And get a load of the chart below that shows that it doesn’t matter what you use to heat your home. Natural gas, electricity, propane and heating oil will all be more expensive than a year ago.

(The National Energy Assistance Directors Association)

However, if you heat with natural gas or propane, you can expect your bills to be a lot higher in the future.

Let’s take a longer view and compare the winter ahead to recent winters. In case you wondered if the higher costs may be linked to people working from home and using more energy, the charts all assume the same energy consumption year to year.

(The National Energy Assistance Directors Association)

And as we trudge out of what for some of the country has been a superheated summer, American families are $16 billion behind paying their electric bills. That is twice as much as Americans owed for electric bills in 2019. NEADA says:

The increase in the energy burden for families in the bottom 40% of the US income distribution, is of even greater concern. Between 2020 and 2021, families spent an average of $3,098 to $3,420 on energy costs and the amount spend on gasoline increased from $1,035 to $1,548. For 2022, NEADA has estimated that the cost of utility services will increase to $3,803 reflecting continued high prices for natural gas, heating oil and propane, as well this summer’s heat waves that increased the cost of air conditioning from an average of $450 last summer to about $600.

A new Marist, NPR, PBS NewHour poll shows inflation is the number one issue on the minds of midterm election voters. Almost two-thirds of people surveyed say they believe the country is in a recession now. 39% said they believe the Republican Party would do a better job managing the economy. 29% said they think Democrats can best handle economic issues.

Hurricane damages Puerto Rico

A road is blocked by a mudslide caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Sunday, September 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephanie Rojas)

We cannot allow Hurricane Fiona to be a replay of Hurricane Maria in 2017, when President Donald Trump withheld billions in recovery aid from the devastated island. Fiona knocked out virtually all of the electricity and a lot of the internet on the island Sunday. Luma Energy, which handles electricity for the island, says it will take several days to restore electricity, but the company says it believes it has the resources to handle the damage. Maria was a significantly more powerful storm than Fiona, but already journalists on the island report Fiona washed away a bridge and destroyed roads.

See coverage from El Nuevo Dia’, Telemundo PR and NotiCentro.

Almost five years after Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico electrical grid was still fragile before Hurricane Fiona arrived. NBC News reported:

At least 2,975 people died during Maria’s aftermath, and most of those deaths have been attributed to the lack of electricity and the ensuing interruptions in medical and other services. The blackout not only affected residences; nursing homes and hospitals found themselves without power for extended periods of time.

An additional 514 Puerto Ricans, most of whom were over the age of 65, were estimated to have died on the U.S. mainland as a result of the hurricane “due to the systematic effects on the displaced,” according to a study published this month by the British Medical Journal Open.

More than 200,000 left Puerto Rico for the mainland during Maria’s aftermath, mostly because of the prolonged lack of electricity following the storm’s devastation.

I appreciated CNN anchor Jim Acosta reminding viewers that the people of Puerto Rico are “our fellow Americans.” reminds us, “As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents are U.S. citizens. However, while subject to U.S. federal laws, island-based Puerto Ricans can’t vote in presidential elections and lack voting representation in Congress. As a U.S. territory, it is neither a state nor an independent country.”

Also, keep an eye on a big typhoon over southern and western Japan. A stunning 8 million people evacuated. Public broadcaster NHK said, “A level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 330,000 people in about 160,000 households in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures. A total of nearly 8 million people in about 3.7 million households affected by a level 4 alert were ordered to evacuate in parts of the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions.”

Carbon dioxide shortage troubles small breweries

There is a shortage of carbon dioxide around the country, and it is causing some delivery unreliability for small breweries. The Carbon Herald, which covers the CO2 industry, says:

The US is currently facing the risk of a beer shortage as a lack of CO2 is becoming ever more evident.

To a great extent, the shortages of carbon dioxide have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and the vast quantities of dry ice, which is frozen CO2, that was required for the transport of vaccines all throughout 2021.

The increased demand put pressure on the carbon dioxide market and saw prices on the gas surge.

Another factor that has had an effect on the CO2 supply were lockdowns, as they saw a decrease in gasoline consumption and, by extension, in the consumption of ethanol, a byproduct of which is carbon dioxide.

Hence, less consumption has led to less CO2 output.

Gasworld, another industry news website, says the shortages that began this summer are likely to continue through the fall.

In addition to this supply shortage, breweries are paying 20% more for aluminum cans than they did a year ago. Add shipping and labor cost increases and beer companies are under a lot of pressure right now.

How Chinese businesses are moving operations to Mexico to avoid US tariffs

Some U.S. businesses that found ways to stay competitive with Chinese imports are about to face new headwinds. The U.S. still has Trump-era tariffs imposed on Chinese goods, but China is finding ways to get around those tariffs by moving operations elsewhere, including, increasingly, to Mexico.

Products made in Mexico move across the U.S. border duty-free, not taxed at the 25% rate they would be if they came directly from China.


American businesses have certainly made similar moves to avoid high labor and transportation costs and other countries have moved operations, including car assembly, to Mexico to avoid U.S. tariffs. China is hoping to offset slightly higher labor costs in Mexico compared to China with the significantly lower cost of transporting goods across an ocean.

More details from Bloomberg.

The good news about the historic drop in the number of US children living in poverty

Let’s close today’s newsletter with some news that may seem surprisingly good. In every state, child poverty is falling. It still affects one in 10 children, but that is down from one in four children in 1993 and one in three children in 1963.

Researchers say three main factors pushed the child poverty rate down by a third between 1993 and 2019:

  • unemployment rates
  • single mothers’ labor force participation
  • higher state-level minimum wages

Here’s a graphic from


And now, the narrative behind the chart:

The past quarter century witnessed an unprecedented decline in child poverty rates. In 1993, the initial year of this decline, more than one in four children in the United States lived in families whose economic resources—including household income and government benefits—were below the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) threshold.

Twenty-six years later, roughly one in 10 children lived in families whose economic resources were below the threshold. This is an astounding decline in the child poverty rate, which has seen child poverty reduced by more than half (59%; see figure below). The magnitude of this decline in child poverty is unequaled in the history of poverty measurement in the United States.

For all of the encouraging news, 8 million children still live in poverty in the United States, and some who live above the statistical poverty line still struggle to meet basic needs. But Dana Thomson, a co-author of the Child Trends study, said the drop in child poverty in the last 30 years has been historic. “Its magnitude is unequaled in the history of poverty measurement, and the single largest explanation is the growth of the safety net.”

The New York Times worked with Child Trends to make sense of the data.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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