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1 in 4 Americans vulnerable to extreme heat based on social factors

Researchers looked at how well equipped Americans are to withstand episodes of extreme heat. It turns out that a sizable number are at risk.
1 in 4 Americans vulnerable to extreme heat based on social factors
Posted at 7:15 AM, Jul 12, 2023

According to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1 in 4 Americans is socially vulnerable and has low resilience to extreme heat. 

The data judges risk factors like housing, transportation modes and financial hardship. The data did not factor which areas are warmer than others or more likely to face future heat waves. The data shows which areas have low resilience when faced with extreme heat. 

And given recent trends, the number of areas facing extreme heat will likely grow. 

Last week was likely the hottest week in the history of modern humanity.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data showed the average air temperature throughout the world exceeded 17 degrees Celsius (62.91 Fahrenheit) for the first time in recorded history.

There are a number of factors causing record heat. While scientists consider climate change due to rising greenhouse gases as the primary reason, a strengthening El Nino cycle is also a likely contributor. 

SEE MORE: White House calls meeting of mayors, tribal officials on extreme heat

The data shows that 23.8% of Americans have three or more risk factors that make them socially vulnerable to extreme heat. The Census Bureau said 31.7% of Americans have no risk factors that make them vulnerable. 

The data also showed that areas of the South, which tend to have longer summers, had a higher proportion of people who are more vulnerable to heat than the Midwest and Northeast. 

The new data was developed with the help of Arizona State University's Knowledge Exchange for Resilience. Researchers used the 2019 American Community Survey's restricted microdata and the Population Estimates Program to develop the data.

“This collaboration is an example of how we can leverage data and innovation to identify and address social inequalities and improve the resilience of communities in the face of climate change,” said Patricia Solís, KER’s executive director.

The data was released as the White House plans to convene officials to focus on preparations for the extreme temperatures. The White House will meet with mayors, local officials and tribal officials from communities dealing with "long duration extreme heat events to bolster preparedness," a White House official said.  

President Joe Biden has made climate a key part of his agenda, including in international engagements and through the Inflation Reduction Act, which the administration has worked to tout in cross-country tours with administration leaders despite Republican criticism of the major legislative item.  

Reporting from Scripps News White House Correspondent Haley Bull was used in this report.


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