The Family Gasoline Bill: Scarcity trumps efficiency

| June 12, 2013

Americans spend a relatively small part of their income on gasoline. But it’s unlikely to get any smaller.

It was just a bit less than 4 percent of income before taxes in 2012, the highest in nearly three decades.

Consider that the percentage has remained fairly near this number for some years, and that the high water mark of recent times was when that number was 5 percent in the 1980s and 2 percent at the tail end of the1990s, and you get some idea of a timeline.

The data come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which says that the average American household spent $2,912 on gas in 2012 (about $900 more than the 2009 family gas bill). There’s a triangular force at work here:

·      household travel has kept increasing since the 1980s

·      vehicles have become increasingly fuel efficient

·      gas prices have gone up significantly

A little perspective on these numbers comes from Jordan Weissmann writing in The Atlantic magazine, who says, “This is partly a story of scarcity beating efficiency.”

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