The harsh New England winter is dragging down the regional economy as consumers spend more on heating their homes rather than on electronics, clothes or a dinner out.

    The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association says the average winter heating bill in New England is expected to climb nearly $300, to about $1,700, up from $1,400 last winter.

    Several major retailers have already blamed the harsh winter for contributing to disappointing sales and earnings.

    The Boston Globe reports that in the Northeast, natural gas users _ more than half of the region's households _ are projected to pay an average of $1,100 this winter. Heating oil and propane customers will pay more than double that.

    The impact is falling most heavily on the poor and elderly living on fixed incomes.
    (Associated Press)

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