Inflation adjusted Gasoline Prices
In 1969 gasoline was only $0.35 a gallon. By 1976 it had risen to $0.60 per gallon. And by 1980 - 81 we were shocked as gas prices rose above $1.00 for the first time. In only 12 years gasoline had risen a full dollar from $0.35 to $1.35. That is an increase of 286% in 12 years! Because the overall value of the dollar has fallen, in order to compare the cost of gasoline over longer periods of time it is necessary to adjust the price for inflation.
In 1981 that $1.35 would be the equivalent of $3.45 in inflation adjusted terms for February 2013 dollars.
Compare that to the price increase from 1998 where the average price was $1.02 and by July 2008 it had increased to $4.02 and you have a 294% increase in 10 years even greater than the 1981 spike.
When we look at gas prices from our own personal perspective we only see a small window of 4 or 5 years at most. Rarely do we even consider a 10 year timeframe. Therefore, we might assume that gas prices "always go up." But if we look at the big picture in inflation adjusted terms we will will get quite a different picture, as we can see from the chart above. Yes, the black "nominal price" is always rising but in inflation adjusted terms gas is no more expensive than it was in 1918. And except for a few short term spikes, gas in inflation adjusted terms, was actually trending downward from 1918 through 2000. Which is to say that the cost of living based on other things increased in price more than gasoline over that period. But since then gasoline has caught back up with other prices and is now back where it was in 1918.
Amazingly the average inflation adjusted gasoline prices for the following peak years were; 1918 was $3.84, 1938 was $3.29, 2008 was $3.47, and the average for all of 2011 and again in 2012 was $3.59. All very close when adjusted for inflation.
Interestingly, the average price of a gallon of gas from 1918 to the present is $2.56 in February 2013 inflation adjusted dollars. So it is safe to say that anytime during that period that the price of gas was above $2.56 in inflation adjusted terms it was expensive and whenever it was below that price it was cheap. So obviously when it reached $4.00 a gallon in July 2008 it was expensive. And with the average for 2012 at $3.55 we are once again expensive.
If we look at the average annual Inflation adjusted gasoline prices for each of the following years (ending in "8") we see several of the "8" years are above average and several are below the average.
Inflation Adjusted Gasoline Prices
So if the long term average price is $2.56 then in 1988 gas was very cheap and in 1978 it was only slightly below average but in 1981 (at an inflation adjusted $3.45) and in 2008 it was extremely expensive on a historical basis.
In 1998 gas had gotten really cheap by historical standards allowing people to buy gas guzzlers like SUV's and Hummers. But that reversed in 2008 as prices rose above the long term average. Fortunately, prices fell in 2009 - 2010 but in 2011-2012 it was once again expensive.
Remember that these are average annual prices and individual months had much higher averages and on a weekly or daily basis prices could (and did) spike much higher (and lower).
According to the US Energy Information Administration the average price of a gallon of gasoline in May 2011 cost $3.91 ... although many places like California people would have been glad to find gasoline for $3.91 a gallon. So in addition to averaging over time it is also averaging over the whole country.
Average Cost of Gas in U.S. by Month
Note in the chart below that the U.S. EIA is projecting declining gasoline prices over the next few months.
Gasoline Money Saving Tip:
One way to save money on Gasoline is to use a cash back credit card with an extra bonus for gasoline purchases. Some cards can save you 5%. A 5% cash back can reduce $3.91 to $3.71. Saving 20¢ a gallon may not sound like much but if your tank holds 15 gallons that is $3.00 per tank. If you fill up twice a week that is over $300 a year ($3.00 x 2 x 52).
Inflation Indexed Bonds (i-Bonds) are supposed to protect you from inflation while providing a reasonable return. How well have they done?
I just got the following comment from Doug S.
I saw the chart on how gas prices haven't really risen when considered with inflation. I am 61 years old, and when I was working in the mid- to late-60s
as a high school student, I
made $1.60 an hour as minimum wage.
Gas was only .25-.35 per gallon (with 'gas
wars', much of the time cheaper) so with one hour of
work I could purchase 5-6 gallons of gas.
Now, with a minimum wage of
Based on what I have read, a loaf of bread might have gone up 5-6 times. I do know that you can use figures to make any point you want, but I am not
convinced that gas is matching inflation and is 'less or about the same' inflated price as it was 40 or 50 years ago. This is garbage. Doug S.
I don't recall saying that gas is currently cheap or that it is less or about the same as 50 years ago. Although it is about the same as 1918.
If you look at the chart you will see that gas prices in inflation adjusted terms were at one of their lowest points in the 1960's declining from $2.50 in 2013 dollars in 1960 down to $2.00 in 1970 during the gas price wars that you mentioned. So compared to that specific time-frame, yes prices have increased. However, in 2000, when the inflation adjusted price was only $1.50 you could just as well have said that prices have declined since 1960.
What I said was, most people use a fairly short term perspective of only the most recent few years and so things look especially bad right now because prices have risen drastically since 2000. But if you compare prices to 1918, 1981 or 2008 we are currently near those peak levels. I also said that the average price from 1918 through 2013 was $2.56 (in 2013 dollars) and so anytime gas prices were above that level it is expensive (now) and anytime it was below that level gas was cheap in historical terms (i.e. 1960 -1970 and 1986-2002).
As far as your argument regarding minimum wage, although interesting in a practical sense, it is based on a faulty premise. That is that the minimum wage is somehow related to real prices. The minimum wage is an arbitrary construct of the government based on political posturing. Congress can set it at anything it wants to and only changes it sporadically, so at any given time it could be too high or too low compared to inflation. If tomorrow the government mandated that the minimium wage was $20 would that mean that gasoline is now cheap in historical terms? What if the economy is doing well and even McDonalds has to pay more than minimum wage in order to attract workers? How does that affect your argument regarding the price of gas? No, in historical terms gasoline is still expensive whenever it is above $2.56 a gallon in 2013 adjusted dollars and cheap when it is below.
If you wish to compare prices to purchasing power, a better measure would be average income or median household income because they are based on actual market based prices rather than on an artificial government construct. ~Tim McMahon, editor
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