DOWN TO BUSINESS: Heating, electric costs among latest expenses to increase

19Gazette

DOWN TO BUSINESS If you’re like me, now is the time of year you play the Thermostat Game, or seeing how far into October you can get before turning the heat on.

I’ll confess to succumbing this week, after days of layering up as if headed to a Friday night football game rather than to my laptop in a shivering-cold home office.

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National Grid has been warning it will be a tough 2022-23 winter heating season, with the average upstate customer paying about $263 more than last year over the November-March period for natural gas and about $116 more for electricity.

Meantime, inflation has been hammering us at the supermarket and gas pump, with the latest government data showing grocery prices up 13.5% in August versus a year earlier and gasoline up 25.6%.

And here’s another mind-numbing factoid: More Americans with good-paying jobs are living paycheck to paycheck due to inflation.

That’s according to LendingClub Corp. and PYMNTS.com, the former owning a digital bank and the latter providing analyses on payment platforms and innovations.

Last week, the companies, which collaborate on consumer surveys that expand on government data, reported that 45% of Americans earning more than $100,000 annually were just making ends meet, up from 38% in September 2021. And of those earning $50,000 to $100,000 annually, 62% were in the paycheck-to-paycheck group, up from 57% a year earlier.

While the share of consumers living paycheck to paycheck has been trending upward over time, “the rise has been strongest across high-income consumers,” according to the companies.

On the plus side, though, many of those consumers are still able to pay their monthly bills. “There is just nothing left over at the end,” Anuj Nayar, LendingClub’s financial health officer, stated in a release on the findings.

(Closer to home, inflation’s impact was evident last month in the quarterly Siena College Research Institute consumer sentiment survey, with 63% of New Yorkers overall, and 65% of higher-income residents, expressing a “somewhat” or “very serious” concern over higher food and gas prices and their household finances.)

In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August inflation report, electricity and natural gas costs were up, too, 15.8% and 33%, respectively, from a year ago.

National Grid cited higher wholesale prices for the biggest chunk of its predicted rise in heating costs this winter, and recognized that the increases “will add to the financial burden for our customers who are struggling with higher costs at the grocery store, gas pump and elsewhere.”

The company noted it offers payment-assistance programs for income-eligible customers, as well as energy-saving strategies and resources for everyone.

Its long list of simple energy-saving tips did not include burrowing under a comforter, as I saw my cats do prior to my turning up the thermostat this week. I may try that tack before this higher-cost winter ends, though.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at  [email protected]

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Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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