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Is it all relative? Maybe oil prices aren't so bad, after all.

Yes, gas prices have soared, but they're still 34 percent below 1980 levels. Housing and baseball tickets are another story.

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We groan when our grandparents go on about Coca-Cola costing only a nickel in their day. How did things become so much more expensive, they always want to know?

Here's the short answer: With inflation factored in, that same bottle of Coke during World War II would cost roughly what we pay for it today. Eggs, milk, and bread now cost less.

But when the subject of gasoline comes up, we sound like our elders. How did it get to be so much?

The fact is, oil is still relatively inexpensive. By one measure tracked by Dow Jones, we are still far from matching an April 1980 spike in US oil prices. The $39.50 per barrel price that month exceeds $90 in today's dollars.

We remain a long way from that, with oil easing below the $50 mark in trading Monday.

That's not to say that energy costs aren't hitting families and corporations in the pocketbook. Even as oil prices have softened in recent days, there's been new concern about energy dampening economic growth. But a broader view - looking at oil over a longer period and against other goods and services - puts the impact in a less dire perspective.

"Gas is actually cheap right now," says Timothy McMahon, editor of InflationData.com. "Up until a year ago, oil was at a historic low, and they were giving this stuff away. And so to go from $20 a barrel to $50 a barrel looks like a big increase in a small period of time. But if it were spread out over those 25 years, nobody would say a thing."

Even with the rising costs, economists say, energy still makes up a small percentage of a family's budget, about 4 percent. That's half what it was in the early 1980s.

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