Q. How does the price of gas today compare to other everyday purchases, like a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, in constant dollars? Like 1980 prices vs. 2011 prices. Have gas prices increased greater than other items?
- Mike, Apollo Beach
A. It seems people have a right to complain about today's prices, Mike. Gas prices have risen faster than other everyday purchases over the past 30 years.
But, it's all in how you look at things. If you look back - way back to 1920 - gas prices have largely stayed flat when adjusted for inflation. Back in the days of Ford's Model T, the price of gas was just 30 cents a gallon. Hey, not bad. But when adjusted for inflation, the 1920 price actually was $3.32 a gallon in 2011 dollars.
The Tribune compared the price of gas to other items using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, a gauge of inflation. We only went back to 1980, because that's the earliest that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has prices for staples such as bread, eggs and cheese.
It turns out gas hasn't spiked that much since 1980.
In 1980, a gallon of regular gas ran $1.25. That's about $3.36 when adjusted for inflation. So, today's average Tampa Bay-area price of $3.50 per gallon doesn't seem so unusual historically.
Of course, 1980 wasn't necessarily a good year for comparison - what with the 1979 energy crisis and all. By 1990, the price of gas had fallen to $1.13 a gallon, which equals $1.91 when adjusted for inflation. So, since 1990 the price of gas actually has risen 85 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
Some food items and the price of electricity generally have seen very small price increases or actually declined in price since 1980, when adjusted for inflation.
White bread, for example, ran 51 cents per pound in 1980. That's worth about $1.37 in today's dollars. Coincidentally, the average price of a pound of white bread today is about $1.40, according to federal government data.
The price of a pound of American cheese is down 30 percent since 1980, when adjusted for inflation. A pound of ground roast coffee will run you a whopping 49 percent less. And, while you might complain about your electric bill, that's down, too.
In 1980, the price of 500 kilowatt hours of electricity was $29.83, according to the BLS' data. That's $80.11 when adjusted for inflation. Fast-forward to today and the same 500 kilowatt hours will run you $65.45. The BLS uses national averages, so those rates may not apply to the Bay area.
For the record, we were paying the most for gas on July 16, 2008, according to AAA Auto Club South. On that date, a gallon of regular gas ran $4.01 in the Bay area. In 2011 dollars, that's $4.12.
- Michael Sasso
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