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Among the Powerless

Millions of U.S. households struggle for sufficient electricity, heat, and cooling. But few poverty researchers have studied the psychological toll of energy insecurity.
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Flickr/State Farm

Robbin Taylor picked up a bottle of corn oil, its contents completely solidified. "I don’t know what temperature vegetable oil freezes at," she told an interviewer from WBUR in February 2015. (The answer: 12 degrees F.) "And that was in the kitchen near the stove"—what should have been the warmest place in her house.

Taylor was living with her daughter and granddaughter in Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood with the city’s highest concentration of poverty. Taylor had been unemployed for more than a year. With no means to refill the basement oil tank, she and her family paced the house just to stay warm. The cold—average temps in Boston in February bottom out at around 20 degrees—made her delirious, Taylor said: "You kinda lose yourself in it, sort of become a hermit. It’s just like the three of us, three women struggling.”