Tuesday, July 15, 2008


In the United States, the quarter that just ended was probably the first period since the early 1980s that a bigger proportion of the consumer’s pocketbook was spent on gasoline, oil and other energy products than was spent on motor vehicles.

But even as the price of gasoline has soared to more than $4 a gallon, Americans are spending a much smaller share of their budgets on fuel than they did at the time of the last spike in oil prices, in 1980.

Even before gasoline hit $4 a gallon, the motor vehicle share of personal consumption expenditures had fallen to its lowest level since shortly after World War II, when the automobile industry was just beginning to increase production after converting to military production during the war.

The share of personal consumption expenditures going to gasoline and other fuels rose to its highest level in more than two decades in the first quarter. But that is well short of the record of 6 percent, reached in four quarters in 1980 and 1981, when oil prices were high and the economy was suffering through two recessions.

These figures are based on government figures on personal consumption expenditures, and may seem a little odd to many, who think the proportion of their disposable income going to gasoline is much larger than the figures would suggest.

They have a point. A growing part of personal consumption expenditures goes to medical services, much of which is not paid directly by consumers. In the most recent quarter, that area took 17.5 percent of spending, up from around 11 percent in the early 1980s when the fuel spending set a record.

-- New York Times

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