Gas Prices Race Toward $4 in Parts of U.S.

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California has taken the largest hit in the sharp increase in gasoline prices. The average price of a gallon of regular in the nation’s largest state recently rose above $4. However, in some of the state’s largest cities, the situation is much worse.  And, the rising prices are spreading to some of the most populated states, threatening a spring and summer of costly driving.

The area around San Francisco has been hit particularly hard. The price within the city itself is $4.07, according to GasBuddy. Not far away is Santa Barbara, the city with the highest price in the state at $4.13. The price in nearby San Jose is $3.98. Across the bay from San Francisco, in Oakland, the price is $3.97.

The area around Los Angeles has not been spared. The price within the city is $4.08. In Riverside, the price is $4.02, and in Ventura it is $4.10.

The other large city in the California with an average price of regular in this range is San Diego, at just above $4.03 a gallon.

California’s largest cities could be the best place to test whether gas prices can begin to badly hurt the economy. The areas around San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles are home to millions of people. Coupled with high gas prices, these areas also have expensive real estate and high costs of living. Perhaps the only mitigating factor is that some also have many households with high median incomes.

The economic theory about rising gas prices is that the trend kills consumer spending. Prices are up nationally nearly 8% this year to above $3.55 a gallon. People only have so much money, obviously. People who commute by car, which number fairly high among the populations of California’s cities, may struggle as an increasingly larger portion of their weekly incomes go toward fueling their vehicles. Eventually their finances become pinched, and their spending on almost everything else drops.

If California’s economy does begin to suffer from high gasoline prices, several other regions won’t be far behind. In New York, Chicago, Miami and other large cities, the average price for a gallon of regular has passed above $3.75 and shows little evidence of moderating. The “California gas problem” has already started to spread aggressively.The price of an average gallon of regular is above $3.60 in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, New York .Illinois and California. Among them, these states have  well over a third of the U.S. population

It doesn’t help that total gasoline inventories have decreased, even with refineries running at near full capacity. One may also wonder why so much oil is stockpiled in the U.S. Strategic Reserve.