Gasoline costs take biggest share of household income in three decades

Trips to the gasoline pump in 2012 and 2008 took their biggest share of U.S. household income in several decades, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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The Energy Department’s statistical arm reported Monday that the average household spent $2,912 for gasoline in 2012, which makes up almost 4 percent of pre-tax income, tying 2008 for the highest percentage in roughly 30 years.

Pump prices took center stage in White House races in 2008 and 2012, but gasoline expenditures as a share of household income remain lower they did than the early 1980s, when they were above 5 percent.

Prices last year were elevated enough to push the share of household spending to the highest level in decades even though overall gasoline consumption has been declining for years.

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“Efficiency gains have accelerated in recent years, such that total U.S. gasoline consumption fell in 2011 to 134.2 billion gallons, its lowest level since 2001. However, at the same time, EIA's average city retail gasoline price rose 26.1 percent in 2011, and another 3.3 percent in 2012, when it reached $3.70 per gallon. The effect of the higher prices in 2011 and 2012 outweighed the effect of reduced consumption,” EIA reports.

“As a result, expenditures increased to a record annual average of $2,655 per household in 2011, rising to an estimated $2,912 in 2012. The 26.1 percent yearly increase in 2011 was six times greater than the 3.4 percent rise in nominal household income. Additionally, the 3.3 percent estimated gasoline price rise in 2012 outpaced the 2.9 percent estimated increase in income,” the agency said.