NEW YORK (AP) — It's been 30 years since gasoline took such a big bite out of the family budget. When the gifts from Grandma are unloaded and holiday travel is over, the typical American household will have spent $4,155 filling up this year, a record. And next year isn't likely to bring relief.
In the past, high gas prices in the United States have gone hand-in-hand with economic good times, making them less damaging to family finances. Now prices are high despite slow economic growth and weak demand.
That's because demand for crude oil is rising globally, especially in the developing nations of Asia and Latin America. But it puts the squeeze on the U.S., where unemployment is high and many people who have jobs aren't getting raises.
The trap has caught Michael Reed of Charlotte, N.C. He hasn't been able to find work since he lost his computer-support job in 2009. Now high gas prices are claiming more of what he has left. He and his wife couldn’t exchange gifts this Christmas. “I try to drive as little as possible so it doesn't take such a chunk out of my wallet,” he says.
For this year, gas should average $3.53 per gallon. That's 76 cents more than last year. It's 29 cents per gallon more than 2008, when gas last set an annual record, $3.24.
Relief from high gas prices is nowhere in sight, though. Expect oil to average $100 per barrel next year, which would eclipse 2011’s average of about $95 per barrel, and gasoline prices to approach $4 per gallon again next spring.
Drivers are keeping gas guzzlers in the driveway, combining trips and buying more efficient cars. But that only helps so much. Hunter Collins, a software support technician, commutes 40 miles each way to his job. He has started to carpool with a colleague and to take his wife's more fuel-efficient car to work when it is his turn to drive.