Gas Prices Holding Steady, U.S. Motorists Driving Less

September 13, 2011

Gas prices remain higher than year-ago levels, but they're holding relatively steady. Nevertheless, it appears that many American drivers aren't willing to spend more on gas; they're simply staying home or finding other ways of getting around.

According to the Detroit News, MasterCard SpendingPulse reports that Americans' spending on gasoline fell by 2.7 percent in the week ending September 9. Yes, that includes the holiday weekend, and that's based on the quantity of gasoline purchased.

As of this Monday, pump prices were down about a penny nationally versus the previous week, but that included slight price hikes of a cent or two throughout much of the Rocky Mountain states and West Coast. In any case, national-average prices remain 94 cents higher per gallon ($3.66 for regular grade) than a year ago.

Meanwhile the trend toward households using less gasoline is a longer-term one—and probably more an economically imposed issue than a lifestyle choice. Again from SpendingPulse, four-week-average gasoline purchases have dropped for 25 consecutive weeks. And that isn't just from buying more fuel-efficient cars; for the first half of the year, compared to the first half of last year, Americans also drove fewer miles.

At the root of the issue, likely, is that many American households are finding themselves poorer this year—even compared to a couple of years ago, during the 'official' recession. Median U.S. household income has dropped 6.4 percent since December 2007—when the recession began—and income has fallen most (as a percentage) for lower-income households; even after adjusting for inflation, those making $20,000 or less saw income drop 3.8 percent in 2010.

When will Americans start driving more again? Or is this part of a larger trend? Let us know what you think.

[Detroit News, USA Today]

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