Feeling the Pain at the Pump – Gas Prices Hit Low-Income Families

Unless you bike to work or live in a metropolis with abundant public transportation, you are probably already feeling the pain at the pump.

High gas prices quickly take a toll on most Americans, from the fully employed who have to pay more for the daily commute, to the college students who have to forgo visits home.

The Automobile Association of America reports that the national average for a gallon of regular is $3.73 – 43 cents more than a month ago.

Unfortunately, low-income families are among the hardest hit by the rising price of fuel. The 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line are already struggling to pay for the necessities, including food, fuel and rent.

An increase in the cost of fuel often means these families will not be able to afford the transportation needed to perform the simple tasks of daily life, from driving to a job interview to picking up food at a pantry or grocery store.

An already limited budget can collapse under the additional strain.

Likewise, the gas prices can negatively impact those who provide the much-needed social services to our country’s poor.

Whether an organization provides food to the needy or offers free medical screenings, nonprofits have difficulty compensating for the increase in transportation costs.

At the same time, businesses who donate goods and services may be less likely to do so if their budget is negatively impacted by high gas prices.

At the St. Louis Area Foodbank, we’ve already spent nearly $1,100 more on fuel through the end of January than what we budgeted. Gas prices have continued to rise throughout February, so it is likely that these numbers will only get worse before we close the books for the month.

Last year, the Foodbank spent almost $450,000 in fuel and freight charges to bring product into the St. Louis area and distribute it out to our partner agencies. We have budgeted more than $500,000 for those same charges this year in anticipation of higher fuel costs.

“Prices at U.S. gasoline pumps have climbed for 32 consecutive days to a four-month high,” according to a Feb. 19, 2013 story in the Wall Street Journal.

The climbing prices are the result of a series of factors, according to an NBC News report:

  • Refineries normally schedule maintenance in January and February when the population is less likely to travel due to weather conditions. This maintenance has led some refineries to go offline temporarily.
  • Some oil terminals and refineries are still working to fix operational problems caused by superstorm Sandy.
  • Demand for gas is up, fueled in part by the number of Americans returning to work.

The jump in gas prices has made life even more difficult for Americans looking for work and struggling to pay bills.

Economists predict that the hike in gas prices will cause a downturn because consumers will decrease spending on goods and services. And as businesses and nonprofits struggle to pay for the increasing costs of transportation, the cost of products and services may rise.

Unfortunately, if history is any indication, gas prices will continue to rise into the summer months.



Bethany Prange
Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.


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