If It Burns, It’s Probably Getting More Expensive

Prices for gasoline, natural gas, and home heating oil are rising

Photo of a young man watching filling his gas tank.
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Add gasoline to the list of things that are relentlessly getting more expensive: the average price of regular unleaded went up over 7 cents a gallon in the last week, the most in a single seven-day stretch since May.

At $3.27 a gallon, the national average reached a new seven-year high on Monday, according to AAA. That’s almost double the $1.77 seen in April 2020, after the onset of the pandemic’s first wave, and $1.09 more than a year ago. AAA attributed the latest uptick to a surge in the cost of crude oil, which rose after OPEC, the international cartel that controls oil prices, and several other nations said they would not increase production.

“Motorists are now spending over $400 million more on gasoline every single day than they were just a year ago,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, a gas price tracking website, wrote in a commentary Monday. “The problems continue to relate to a surge in demand as the global economy recovers, combined with deep cuts to production from early in the pandemic. If Americans can’t slow their appetite for fuels, we’ve got no place for prices to go but up.”

The pain is hitting at more than the pump, too. Natural gas commodity prices, which are closely linked to the rates paid by households and businesses, have more than tripled in the year through early October, and some economists have warned that a particularly bad winter could send them even higher. Just like gasoline, home heating oil has risen more than $1 a gallon in the last year, to $3.17, on average, last week.

Rising gasoline and home heating prices are especially burdensome to low-income households. For example, households that earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level spend an average of about 14% of their income on gas, roughly twice the overall average, according to an analysis by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

In fact, most of the roughly 6% of households that said they cut back on basic necessities like food and medicine almost every month in order to pay home energy bills earned less than $50,000 a year, according to a Census Bureau survey in the second half of September.