Gasoline: Widening The Gap Between Rich And Poor

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cross posted at The Dream Antilles

Is lack of any US energy policy designed to drive the poorest Americans even deeper into poverty?  To drive them to the cities?  To drive them off their land?  To drive their wages lower? It sure looks like it, and that rising gas prices are the means to those ends.  

This morning’s NY Times, focusing on the Mississippi Delta, finally reveals the problem all of us suspected as soon as gas prices started to spike.  The bleak news:

Here in the Mississippi Delta, some farm workers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work. Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.

People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel. Gasoline theft is rising. And drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road until they can scrape together gas money.

The disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”

Put simply, gas at $4 a gallon and more means that the poor, who go without on a good day, are forced to go without even more.  It’s not a pretty picture.  It means that paying for gas competes with the utilities, food, health care, clothing, school supplies, and every other household item.  

What, you might want to know, are the practical alternatives to commuting long distances to work, something endemic to living in rural America? There is no real public transportation system.  Car pooling might be an option, assuming you have somebody near you who is on the same shift at the same plant.  Working longer shifts on four days to save the fifth day’s commute money might be a small help, if your employer can do that.  But beyond that, there’s no apparent, short term solution, not with prices zooming toward $5/gallon and beyond.  And wages being low and fixed.  And second jobs in great demand and even harder to find.  And miles from where the rural poor live to where they can find work.

How do rural people with low incomes cope?   Answer: they struggle mightily.  They cut corners.  They take from Peter to pay Paul.  They borrow.  They max out their credit.  They work multiple jobs.  And now, despite all those struggles to keep the wolf from the door, the pre-cursors have arrived for a Tom Joad moment.  There is an economic disaster looming in rural America.

The extra dollars spent at the pump mean electric bills are going unpaid and macaroni is replacing meat at supper. Donations to church are being put off, and video rentals are now unaffordable.

Cleveland Whiteside, / snip [who] used to commute 30 miles a day, said his Jeep Cherokee was repossessed last month, because “I paid so much for gas to get to work I couldn’t pay my payments anymore.” His employer, Larry Clanton, has lent him a pickup truck so he can get to work.

Signs of pain and adaptation because of the cost of gas are everywhere. Local fried chicken restaurants are closing because people are eating out less. At the hardware store here, sales have plummeted to $30 a day from $250 a day a month ago.

“Money goes to gasoline – I know mine does,” said the hardware store’s manager, Pam Williams, who tries to attract customers by putting out choice crickets for fishing bait beside the front door.

The bottom line?  The situation as it now stands with rising gasoline prices is just not sustainable.  Workers and their families cannot afford to go on in this way.

Sociologists and economists who study rural poverty say the gasoline crisis in the rural South, if it persists, could accelerate population loss and decrease the tax base in some areas as more people move closer to urban manufacturing jobs. They warn that the high cost of driving makes low-wage labor even less attractive to workers, especially those who also have to pay for child care and can live off welfare and food stamps.

“As gas prices rise, working less could be the economically rational choice,” said Tim Slack, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies rural poverty. “That would mean lower incomes for the poor and greater distance from the mainstream.”

 

Put in less academic terms, poor, rural workers are absolutely screwed.  They cannot afford gas.  The result is that they cannot afford to commute, so they cannot afford to go to work.  That means that they will have to move somewhere else to find work closer to where they can live.  Or take a worse paying job that is closer.  And as prices rise, more and more workers, including some of those who are now barely eeking by, too, will not be able to afford to commute.  And then not be able to afford to work.

Is there a short term solution to this?  Crickets.  

30 comments

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  1. An no, Mr. McSame, the answer isn’t a “gas tax holiday.”

    Thanks for reading.

  2. crickets is right.  No short term solution exists.  The federal tax of 18 cents a gallon will make no difference.  it was a crisis a month ago at 3.50.

    The dollar has to reverse its decline for gas to come down.  Not happening short term.

    Alternatives have to come on line to replace high-priced gas.  Not happening short term.

    Short term stop gaps for some folks (probably not solutions for many): biking if it’s not too far, carpooling if you can’t bike (thereby creating a private version of public transportation).

    Things are getting hard out there…

    • Valtin on June 9, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Bush & Co. are exercising their shock and awe on the American people now, having looted the national treasury for imperialistic wars and profiteering, while reducing taxes on the rich and ignoring basic infrastructure repair and upgrade.

    While most may hate to admit it, the existence of the Soviet Union kept the capitalist class at least attentive to average people’s needs, lest the propaganda stemming from the Communists (even if it was based on lies via conditions in their home) would win over new adherents, or cause unrest at home. Certainly this was the reason in Western Europe especially that a social welfare state and socialistic policies were embraced. And there, too, the screws are now being turned and formerly pro-worker policies around employment and education are being withdrawn.

    We seem to be headed back to the capitalist world Marx lived in, and one that, when the pendulum swings, will bring with it uprisings of the poor in the cities and the country. It will also bring the rise of new political parties and movements aimed at bringing down class privilege and exploitation, and ending imperialistic policies of war and conquest that destroy the lives of millions abroad, and immiserate millions at home.

  3. …began publicly protesting the run-up to the Iraq war six years ago had turned our chants upside-down from “No Blood for Oil” to “No Oil for Blood” – which is how things turned out – maybe the majority of Americans would have opposed the invasion and occupation from the get-go instead of being pressed to support it by a bayonet labeled “9/11.”

    • brobin on June 9, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    afford to transport themselves back and forth to work and still pay inflated prices for food, health care, etc, etc, etc.

    They have us right where they want us, n’est pas?

  4. The Saudis are calling for an oil summit

    (Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said):  “There is no justification for the current rise in prices”…

    “…Saudi Arabia will call for a summit between oil producing countries and consumer states to discuss soaring energy prices, Information and Culture Minister Iyad Madani said Monday…”

    I remember someone saying years ago, (I don’t remember if it was a teacher or pundit, but IMHO, it was wisdom) that the Saudis, after oil prices rise to the point that people starting to get very angry and demand changes, including alternative energy–they step in and lower the prices slightly, always trying to keep the price of oil/ gas just below the expense of developing alternative energy.

    I hope this time though, that people will keep screaming for changes like mass transit, alternative fuels, etc and end our oil dependence.

  5. about 30 minutes out of a large city where I work and closer to a town. I went to the grocery store today at around 1030 and noticed the shelves aren’t as full perhaps a reflection of  diesel prices for trucks.

    I know I paid 4.49 for diesel for my own vehicle last week.

    And….. at the pumps you can not go over 100 bucks for your debit/credit card, you have to end up doing two separate transactions which does affect vehicles much larger than mine ( I have a diesel wagon ) Since there are few jobs in the town closest to me I know most people are commenting into the city and it is hurting them.

    Just a anecdotal piece of evidence, even the parking lot at Walmart isn’t as full which normally it is jam packed 24/7 since it is one of the few places to shop with driving an hour.

    • dkmich on June 10, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Life is full of trade-offs.  There are days when I wish I could just go find a corner to hide in.  Females of my generation were brought up to believe in “happily ever after”.  I wish it were so.  

    • Viet71 on June 10, 2008 at 12:53 am

    is to create a general store, maybe a restaurant, in your community that requires customers to drive only a short way to get a good experience, a good return for money.

    • Mu on June 10, 2008 at 1:00 am

    . . . give a shit.

    This is an opening for Democratic candidates:  all those “good ol’ boys” who’ve been voting GOP against their interests for years can now see some of the fruits of their ballots.  I don’t want blue collar GOP voters to just vote Democratic, I want them to learn to despise the Republican Party that they’ve supported for 1-4 decades.

    Mu . . .

    • Viet71 on June 10, 2008 at 1:05 am

    are dead, as I see.

    Getting to or from either has become sharply costlier.

    America has been constructed, physically, on the basis of cheap gasoline.

    Suddenly, America has to re-adjust.

    • dennis on June 10, 2008 at 4:06 am

    a little bit worse–it seems the flooding in Iowa and adjacent states is going to hammer this year’s corn crop, which means ethanol prices will go up, which means gas prices will to.

    • kj on June 10, 2008 at 4:24 am

    “… tell me, is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse…

    ~~Bruce Springsteen, The River

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