Gas prices have just surpassed the $4 mark, but the impact is far from uniform throughout the nation- poor, rural counties, particularly in the south and west, suffer disproportionately.
"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."
"A survey by Mr. Rozell's firm late last month found that the gasoline crisis is taking the highest toll, as a percentage of income, on people in rural areas of the South, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.
The survey showed that of the 13 counties where people spent 13 percent or more of their family income on gasoline, 5 were located in Mississippi, 4 were in Alabama, 3 were in Kentucky and 1 was in West Virginia. While people here in Holmes County (MS) spent an average of 15.6 percent of their income on gasoline, people in Nassau County, N.Y., spent barely more than 2 percent, according to the survey."
The impact of the high gas prices spreads throughout the communities as neighborhood restaurants may close when customers spend more of their income on fuel.
"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."