On Wednesday, U.S. gas prices hit an average of $4.67 a gallon, the highest ever recorded. (Important caveat: Adjusted for inflation, they’re still significantly lower than in 2008, when they peaked around $4.11 per gallon, or about $5.52 today.)
As CNN notes, Wednesday’s price is a 32 percent increase from February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. The average price in several states exceeds $5 a gallon, and in one state — California — it’s over $6. (New York is at $4.93.) There’s no sign that these high numbers will moderate anytime soon; in fact, they’re expected to get worse, at least in the short term. And with Americans traveling in pre-pandemic numbers this summer, that’s bad news for both consumers and Democrats.
Gas prices were already skyrocketing before Russia sent tanks into Ukraine, thanks to a perfect storm of factors, including a quicker-than-expected rebound in consumer demand after the first stage of the pandemic, hesitancy from energy companies to drill more given a volatile market, and Wall Street pressure on those companies to reward shareholders rather than produce more oil.
But Putin’s invasion kicked prices into even higher gear. Though the U.S. imports only a small portion of Russia’s oil — Europe is a far bigger customer — the loss of that oil has reverberated in global markets, where prices worldwide are determined.
For most Americans, the numbers displayed in enormous lettering at gas stations across the land are among the most visible signs of economic well-being, or the lack of it. The fact that those numbers have more than doubled in the last year is very bad news for President Biden and the Democratic Party, especially amid broader inflation woes.
Biden has attempted to stem the tide of rising prices, but there’s only so much he can do in this department. In April, he announced plans to release a million barrels of oil a day from America’s strategic reserves while suppliers ramp up production. But that was expected to have only a modest effect on prices, and since then they’ve gone consistently in the wrong direction.
Some states have resorted to stuntish (yet politically understandable) measures to appease restive drivers. Beginning on Wednesday, for example, New York will suspend the gas tax, which is about 16 cents a gallon, through the rest of the year. But with no end in sight to the war in Ukraine and domestic production still sluggish, there’s little sign of a solution to the deeper systemic problems at hand.