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Why $4.01 gas in Mississippi hurts more than $5.72 gas in California

<i>Damian Dovarganes/AP</i><br/>
Damian Dovarganes/AP

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

No matter where you go in the United States, gas prices are uncomfortably high. Filling up a car for $60, $70 or $80 is a painful experience wherever you live.

But not all Americans are feeling pain at the pump equally.

For example, you might think drivers in California are struggling with higher gas prices more than most other Americans, because the average price for a gallon of regular stood at $5.72 on Friday, or $1.39 above the national average. But that’s probably wrong.

That’s because paychecks in California, on average, are significantly higher than in the rest of the country. Californians make $37.18 an hour on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s 18% more than national average.

Of course, some people in high-wage states make far less than the average. And it’s possible to find cheaper gas than a state’s average price if you look for it.

But we thought a little economics exercise would be telling. Where are drivers feeling the most pain from gas prices?

We compared the average price and average wage data to show how much Americans need to work, on average, to fill up a 15-gallon tank of regular gas.

Using Friday’s national average gas price and the December national wage estimate, drivers are now spending an average of 2 hours and 7 minutes on the job to pay for their 15 gallons of gas. That’s up 25 minutes from Feb. 23, the day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine started sending gas prices soaring.

The state-by-state results, in the expandable chart below, show that the pain from the recent spike in gas prices is being felt everywhere — not just in the handful of states with the highest prices.

For example, California workers earning the average wage in the state need to work 2 hours and 18 minutes to buy 15 gallons of regular gas. So, despite an average gas price that dwarfs that of any other state, there are nine states where workers need to spend more time on the job to earn the money they need to fill-up.

But in Mississippi, drivers are paying $4.01 a gallon, the 11th lowest statewide average and well below AAA’s record national average price Friday of $4.33 a gallon. But because the average hourly wage there is $23.51 (compared to the national average of $31.18), its workers need to stay on the job for 16 minutes longer than their Californian counterparts to fill up their gas tanks.

Nevada has an unfortunate combination of high gas prices — $4.92 a gallon, the second highest in the nation after California — and modest wages. The average wage there is $27.03 an hour, or 13% below the national average. So Nevada drivers therefore have to work the longest of workers in any state – 2 hours and 44 minutes – to pay for their fill-up.

Many other states with high gas prices also have higher-than-average wages to help drivers.

New York drivers are paying $4.47 a gallon for gas, but they only are working one hour and 53 minutes for a fill-up, which makes it the fifth shortest time. Workers in Washington state have an even higher average pay, allowing them only to work one minute longer than their New York counterparts, even though drivers there face an average price of $4.73 a gallon, the fifth highest price in the nation.

The highest recorded average wage is in Washington DC, at $51.40, according to the Labor Department. That gives drivers there the shortest time to be on the job to buy those 15 gallons of regular at an average price of $4.50 a gallon — only an hour and 19 minutes.

Like the states’ wage estimates, however, those numbers measure only private sector wages, not government employers. Obviously, a large portion of the district’s employees work in the public sector. The DC figure also measures wages only in that city, not the mix of rural, suburban and urban workers who make up Washington’s workforce.

The average wage paid by businesses in the broader Washington metropolitan area, which includes not only the Washington DC but parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, is $39.72, which is more in line with the range of statewide averages. Still, workers in that metropolitan area would need the shortest time on the job to fill up an hour and 42 minutes.

The shortest amount of time to work for a fill-up in any state is Minnesota. Drivers there need to work 1 hour and 44 minutes to buy their $15 worth of gas. Workers in that state are helped by relatively cheap gas — $3.96 a gallon — and better than average wages.

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Article Topic Follows: cnn-business-consumer

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