Saturday, August 13, 2005

High gas prices fuel fear of financial hardship

Saturday, August 13, 2005

High gas prices fuel fear of financial hardship


With record-high prices hitting his gas tank and wallet, Jim Roundtree is considering shifting his commute.

"It's almost $3 a gallon now, so I might as well take the bus," said Roundtree, who was filling up his older Mazda sedan Friday at a West Seattle 76 station, where prices ranged from $2.65 to $2.85 a gallon.

The bus, which he already takes occasionally, turns his 15-minute drive into an hourlong trip -- not something the 47-year-old Alki resident relishes. "I don't want to sit there on a bus after work. I just want to get home, change, relax and eat some dinner," he said.

Roundtree says rising prices would cut into his ability to drive to visit friends and family who live outside the city.

Nationally, almost two-thirds of those surveyed for an AP-AOL poll expect fuel costs to cause them financial hardship in coming months. That's sharply higher than in April, when about half felt that way.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline nationally is more than $2.41, compared with $1.86 a year ago and about $2.31 in July, according to the auto club AAA.

It's even worse in Seattle, where the price of a gallon of regular self-serve gas topped $2.62, according to AAA Washington -- that's up more than 67 cents over a year ago and 18 cents over last month. Washington state, at $2.61 a gallon, averaged the fourth-highest of any state, after California ($2.72), Hawaii ($2.70) and Nevada ($2.62).

And costs are expected to keep rising: Prices for crude oil reached a record of more than $67 a barrel in New York on Friday. That's almost 50 percent higher than a year ago.

In the poll conducted for The Associated Press and AOL News, 64 percent said gas prices will cause money problems for them in the next six months. In April, 51 percent expressed such concerns.

Those most likely to be worried were people with low incomes, the unemployed and minorities.

However, the level of concern was rising fastest among women, retirees, married people and those living in the suburbs.

Denise Spalding, a real estate broker who lives on Capitol Hill, poured $46.09 worth of gas into her Volvo Cross Country yesterday while working on a project in West Seattle.

Since she drives all over town for business, she said, she didn't have a choice.

"I will find a way to fill my tank up with gas," the 60-year-old said. "It's just the cost of doing business. Of course it cuts in. Does it piss me off? Yes."

Filling up with regular gas for the Seattle driver of a subcompact who needs only 12 gallons has increased from an average of $23.40 a year ago to about $31.50 now. Filling up with premium gas for the driver of a Ford Expedition SUV or a big truck that needs 28 gallons has increased from just over $59 a year ago to pennies under $80 now.

Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys for the University of Michigan, said high gas prices can dampen enthusiasm even when the rest of the economy is good.

"It has a rather large effect on the public's mood about the economy, especially among lower-income households," he said. "It directly reduces their spendable income, because they are not able to conserve their use of gas very easily -- their trips to work and to the store."

Only about a third in the poll said they think President Bush is handling the nation's energy problems effectively, while almost six in 10 disagree. When asked whom they blame most for the rise in gas prices, people were most inclined to blame the oil companies, followed closely by politicians and countries that produce oil.

The AP-AOL News poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Aug. 9-11 by Ipsos, an international polling firm.

The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
P-I reporter Jake Ellison contributed to this report from The Associated Press.


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