Gasoline Affordability

American consumers’ feelings about the affordability of gasoline saw a small nominal decline as fall passed into winter this year. As seen in the chart below, the gasoline affordability index appears to be trending downward over the past two quarters, but the differences are not statistically significant. At its most recent level of 92 (±6), this index indicates that gasoline prices would have to almost double before U.S. consumers would think that they were unaffordable on average. In this context, “unaffordable” means that consumers would feel that the price would become so high that they feel they’d have to change the way they get around.Although not as pronounced, this trend in the gasoline affordability index is similar to that of last winter, when the index dipped to 93 (±5). It differs from what we had seen in previous winters, in which a spike in the index would often occur.

Thus, statistically speaking, consumers views on the affordability of gasoline have been quite stable over the past five quarters, over which the index has hovered around the 100 level. These recently stable views of the affordability of gasoline differ from the more variable and overall rising trend in the price of gasoline itself. The national average pump price is plotted below through the latest monthly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Thus, for some time now, Americans remain much happier about the price of gasoline than they were when we launched the survey in fall 2013. The gasoline affordability index was well below 100 for the first five quarters of the Energy Survey, when it averaged 62 (±5) and the national average price of gasoline was $3.53 per gallon. That price was almost a dollar more per gallon more than it has been over most of the past year.