The price of gasoline has again dipped below (US) $2 per gallon in most of Cascadia, though it’s still up about 40 cents from its January level.

This increase has hit low-income drivers harder than anyone else, as the Wall Street Journal documented two days ago. (Subscription required, login, then search July 12 for Jeffrey Ball’s frontpage article “For Many Low-Income Workers, High Gasoline Prices Take a Toll.”)

Jeffrey Ball writes,

Today, even among those U.S. households earning less than $15,000 a year, about three-quarters own cars. The cost—of car payments, insurance premiums and gasoline—represents a bigger financial hit for those whose wallets are thinner. Moreover, those with lower incomes are likelier to be driving older, less-fuel-efficient cars and trucks, further intensifying the sting of higher gas prices. According to a report last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation, individuals with annual incomes of less than $8,000 spent nearly 10% of their incomes commuting in 1999. Those with incomes of $45,000 or more spent just 2%

As the Wall Street Journal chart on the right shows, residents of Portland devote fully 16 percent of their household budgets to transportation, well above levels in East Coast cities that developed before the automobile. Residents of sprawling Seattle devote 20 percent—about the same as Dallas and Houston.

  • Ball continues,

    At [today’s price] level, assuming a car travels 15,000 miles a year, which is typical, and gets 21 miles per gallon, approximately the national average, its driver will spend $1,350 annually on gas, or $286 more than last year. Families that need two or three cars to get around, as many do, could be spending $3,000 or $4,000 a year on gas.

    That may be tolerable for a family making $100,000 a year or more. But for a family scraping by on $19,000, roughly the federal poverty line for a family of four, it hurts.

    Later, Ball notes the kicker:

    It’s very difficult to have good transit service when stuff is spread out like a thin coat of peanut butter across the horizon,” says Ed Crawford, who is public liaison for the bus system, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit [in sprawling Tampa, Florida]. He rides a motorcycle to work. “We have multiple cores and mostly suburban bedroom communities. As a consequence, people are forced to drive,” he says.

    Sprawl turns low incomes into poverty incomes.