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By Samuel R. Avro on Mar 14, 2012 with 40 responses

Charting the Dramatic Gas Price Rise of the Last Decade

Different Situation, But Prices Are Not Unprecedented

In a previous column, I pointed out that — perhaps surprisingly — the price we’ve been paying for gas lately, compared to 90 years ago, is not as high as people would think — that is, once the rate of inflation is factored in to the equation.  For instance, while motorists may have been paying only $0.25/gallon in 1919, when converting that number to February 2012 dollars, the cost was $3.35/gallon — a mere 6.5 percent cheaper than 2011′s annual average of $3.57/gallon. The chart below shows the price movement (based on February 2012 dollars) from 1919-2011.

gas prices inflation adjusted
Annual gas prices adjusted for inflation 1919-2011. Cost in Feb. 2012 U.S. Dollars.

From the Eve of the New Millennium

However, while it’s true that gas prices today are similar to where they were 90 years ago, if you take a closer look at the above chart you’ll notice that from the 1920′s through the end of the 20th century (except for occasional bumps mostly due to world events) prices were steadily declining. Yet as the 20th century turned into the 21st century, gas prices began to spike at an incredible rate — and this time factoring in the rate of inflation did nothing to smooth out the numbers like they did when comparing the $0.25/gallon in 1919 to the $3.57/gallon in 2011.

The purpose of this exercise is to present the data so people can see where the price spikes occurred just as the earlier data was presented for people to see where it didn’t occur. In order for the data to be as accurate as possible, I’m once again going to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate the rate of inflation (some say the CPI is not always the best measure of inflation, but it’s what the U.S. Department of Energy uses).

Average annual gas prices from 1998-2011.

Average cost for a gallon of gas in the U.S. between 1998-2011:


1998 — $1.03
1999 — $1.14
2000 — $1.49


2001 — $1.43
2002 — $1.34
2003 — $1.56
2004 — $1.85
2005 — $2.27
2006 — $2.58
2007 — $2.81
2008 — $3.26


2009 — $2.35
2010 — $2.78
2011 — $3.53

Average annual gas prices climbed from a low of $1.03 in 1998 all the way to $3.53 in 2011 — an astronomical 243 percent rise in under 15 years. By contrast, during this same time period, the Consumer Price Index gained only 38 percent.

Percent Change & Inflation

Gas prices and Consumer Price Index percent change from 1998.

As plotted on the graph above, the rise in gas prices were operating on a completely different plain from the CPI. By 2005, gas prices had jumped 120 percent in the seven years from 1998, while the CPI had climbed just 20 percent. By 2008, gas prices continued to skyrocket, up 217 percent from 1998, while the CPI was up by only 32 percent.

Gas prices and CPI percent change compared to the prior year, from 1999-2011.

Looking at the yearly changes in both CPI and gas prices in the chart above, one can see the contrast of the CPI’s steadiness and the volatility in gas prices. Only one time in the 13 years did gas prices move by less than 5 percent, as opposed to the CPI which never had an even 4 percent change in any of the years.

Conclusion: Chance For a Bumpier Ride Ahead?

The analysis shows that while the current high gas price levels are not unprecedented, there are some signs that we could be shortly headed into unprecedented territory. We have made some runs at that in the past decade, and it may not be long before we have truly entered a new paradigm.

  1. By eromrab on April 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    It might be worth running these same calculations with some of the “other” inflation numbers out there. Many people have been claiming that the CPI is an inadequate measure of inflation and is actually under reporting it. I would be interested in seeing if using their numbers would give a more “stable” gas price to inflation output.

  2. By lewis on July 9, 2012 at 9:50 am

    well i think that the prices of petrol has been rising because we are using too much of it and too quickly. we should start using more renewable sources.

  3. By Lee on August 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    in 1919 most americans used horses as transportation. So the average american is now paying more for an item the wealthy used for weekend play , there was no wide distribution of cars or fuel. Gasoline was a biproduct of refining. This chart does not give me comfort.

  4. By paul bowman on September 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Special Interest is what these charts show me. Twisting number to get results you want. A lot of factors go into getting true answers. And isn’t as simple as charts above. 1919 compared to today is apples and oranges. Population being a hugh factor in calulation to get a true answer.

  5. By Dave T on September 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Thanks again George W. Bush! The gifts keep on coming.

    • By Frank on October 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      Stop blaming bush already.  If you look, the prices rose after 9/11 (obvious reasons here) and then dropped dramatically to a low 1.00 a gallon before Obama was elected.  You treat Bush like the absent kid that gets blamed for everything yet did nothing (not that he was a saint).  If Obama gets 4 more years, is he still going to blame bush?

      • By JoeB on October 2, 2012 at 12:50 am

        Are you even looking at the numbers??  Sorry if the facts don’t agree with the lies Fox News is feeding you, but here they are:

        National ave for 2001 was $1.43. National ave in 2008

        was $3.26. That’s an ≈130% increase under BUSH.

        National ave of 2009 was $2.35. National ave as of yesterday was $3.72. That’s an ≈60% under Obama.



        • By CathalMac on October 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm

          By Joeb, Your comparing 8 years of Bush vs 3 1/2 years of Obama thats not going to work you would 8 years of each for a true comparison. On the path Obama is currently going he’ll end up with numbers around the same. And if the gasoline prices were all Bush’s fault, what has the President done to correct it?……….NOTHING!

          • By Jess on October 7, 2012 at 8:59 pm

            Cathalmac, how do you know? do you keep track of everything that is going on in the political arena, or are you stuck on gas prices? everyone likes to play the blame game, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that when you take a country from a surplus to a trillion dollar debt in just 8 years, you can’t lay it at the feet of the guy who is trying to clean it up. if you know something that will get the job done overnight, then by all means write your congressman or someone so they can get it to the budget people up there on Capital Hill. 

            • By jeff on October 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm

              in case you don’t know, the US President has nothing to do with gas prices, they are set by OPEC

            • By Rob on October 17, 2012 at 12:30 am

              Your buddy Obama sure kept his promise  to lower unemployment to 5.4% ! How bout those food stamps 17,000,000 MORE people on in ‘em in less than 4 years! Oh yea! He added 0! Net jobs in 4 years! Not this fake 5 million number You liberals keep talking about.  Wait and see the landslide in Nov ! Obamanos

            • By Joe on January 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

              100% correct. Why doesn’t people look at common sense? You see repubs blame Clinton for all of this because he allowed people get homes. What you don’t think of is that during Bush admin, he was losing a lot of jobs every month and on top of that he was on vaction for the most ever for a president. Bush started two wars on top of that. So he started the debt trap and didn’t take care of business at home. So he balmes Clinton whan he had 8 YEARS IN THE WHIT HOUSE! Don’t even try to lay blame on Obama. I remember when Obama got into office. Not even pasted his first year people were already blaming him. Shows how dumb people are.

        • By spaz on April 19, 2013 at 8:15 am

          All this fighting about this stuff, anyone have any solutions?

      • By George Bush on October 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

        You do realize that the whole 9/11 thing is a sac of shit. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but “9/11″ was a manufactured motive to go to war. You see, the president, no president for that matter, has any significant power, that’s just how it’s setup. They are a symbol, representing a country. No president has or ever will have the power to single handedly raise unemployment, raise gas prices, or implement foreign policies. He just signs paper work brought fourth by his advisors and members of congress. This whole government thing is a show, and the President is only a puppet having his strings pulled by the real decision makers. Who those people are? we will never know. So why don’t you just let it go, and live a happy and fulfilling life. 

      • By Barack Obama on November 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

        No, but America is going to keep moving  FOWARD!!!

      • By Joe on January 8, 2013 at 10:01 am

        Yeah it was Obama, man you people are dumb.You don’t remember gas prices being very high in Bush’s last year because you remember it being low at the end of that year. Bush = oil guy. Don’t elect oil guys to office. they ruin the country. Bush didnt care about the american people because he was on vacation most of the time. Obama cares more about the american people then most presidents we had. But you fools believe that we were going to get out of this mess in a couple years. Bush nailed us pretty had just look at what happened in his administration. He set the stag for all of this. Obama had no choose but to bail out the banks and car companies. If he didnt you could say america would be a lot worst. No one talks about Bush doing bail outs. Remember that? I guess its ok for him to do bail-outs but Obama its not. Obama made money off those bail-outs.

    • By Rob on October 17, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Grow up! Your buddy Obama has done so much for you! Get a grip!

  6. By Raul on September 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    It would truly be interesting to compare price per barrel of oil against dollar per gallon  of gasoline. 

    Seems that oil hit $100 barrel in 1998  but gasoline was still under $3.00 a gallon.  ???

  7. By Mark Carrie on October 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Hey Joeb using  your logic Obama is only half as bad as Bush. What a moronic view.


  8. By Greg Mason on October 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    While many of you are pointing to presidential administrations as the root cause for volatility of our nation’s gas prices, it is more accurate to state that commodity futures traders really started the roller coaster. Their bets and hedges against supply and demand, global events, regional conflicts affecting delivery of the raw material have had the most dramatic impact of the price of oil. Traders today are still allowed to purchase futures contracts for millions of barrels of oil without having to take delivery of the product. A simple rule that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and NYMEX requiring Oil futures buyers to take delivery would go a long way toward halting the volatility we face today.

    • By Jess on October 7, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      your major in economics or something? you’re the only one making a sound argument.

    • By Joe on October 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Finally someone with a little common sense has spoken !

      Thank You

    • By George Bush on October 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      There is a God! Thank You, you took the words right out of my mouth!

    • By Daisytoo on March 30, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      “Their bets and hedges against supply and demand, global events, regional conflicts affecting delivery of the raw material have had the most dramatic impact of (sic) the price of oil. ”

      And you can say, with a straight face, that Obama’s disastrous meddling in the ME hasn’t affected the price of oil? Wow.

      • By Carter on April 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm

        And you can ask that about Obama with a straight face? Who started the meddling in the ME (which I’m assuming you mean Middle East)? Right…that was Bush.

        • By Daisytoo on April 23, 2014 at 5:42 pm

          Wrong. For better and worse, the USA has been partnered (aka — developed their oil business) w/Saudi Arabia since the early 1930s.

          Obama’s foreign policy — especially w/re to the ME – is as inept and bumbling as his domestic policies. His every move in the ME (and Egypt) from warring on Libya to threatening war on Syria has done nothing but place Islamists in positions of power — which in turn has further destabilized the already volatile ME. He shows himself the coward he is to the ME tyrants (and Putin too). The man, equipped though he may be as a tin pot dictator, is a failure as POTUS.

          If you for a moment imagine that Obama’s asinine policies in the ME – along w/his continual appeasement of the fringe lunatic environmentalists (e.g. destroying the coal industry, refusing to go ahead on the Keystone Pipeline, catering to the anti-fracking crazies) – hasn’t deleteriously affected oil prices, you are seriously misinformed.

          • By Optimist on April 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm

            Daisy, what happened to oil prices when the “brave” W invaded Iraq? 2008, he was still president, right? Oil prices almost hit $150/bbl. Please explain how the Liberal Media, or whatever force of darkness you like to blame made that happen.

            When it comes to oil prices, Obama, like W, is mostly a spectator. True his policies will affect oil prices… years after he’s left office.

            As for the coal industry, it’s the cheap fracking gas,that’s destroying it. Obama may or may not hate the coal industry – he’s too harmless to do it much damage or good either way…

            • By Daisytoo on April 23, 2014 at 10:22 pm

              Obama is harmless?!!! Get real – he has destroyed the coal industry – exactly as he promised he would.
              Speaking of reality, in 2008 Venezuela cut off oil sales to Exxon-Moblie during a Venezuelan (see: Marxist) legal struggle to nationalize the companies properties there. Iraqi production was affected by the (legitimate) war and then there were the terrorists who blew up the main oil export lines in Iraq. Exxon had to deal w/strikes in Nigeria and Scotland and major Mexican oil fields became depleted. But go ahead, and act like your false messiah: Blame Bush.

            • By Optimist on April 23, 2014 at 10:35 pm

              Just for the record: I prefer a Messiah that offers more than mostly harmless.

              You, on the other hand seem to go to some extreme not to use the name Bush in vain. Get over it. The guy is a minor president, just like his immediate predecessor and successor. The disturbing thing is all three won reelection. How did that happen?!?

              The commies screwed up everything they touched, but this is the first time I’ve heard someone blame them for $150/bbl…

          • By dcard88 on September 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

            Destroying the coal ‘industry’. lol Yes its totally destroyed.

  9. By Tina on November 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Why is the president opposed to off shore drilling, but will purchase oil from other countries that do?  Common sense won’t help in trying to figure that one out.

  10. By Joe madden on January 8, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Back in 1919 demand wasn’t high. Today demand is high yet prices go up. That tells you its price gouging. For many years we follow supply and demand on anything in the world but how is gas different? Its different because these scum oil companies are getting away with crimes. No matter how you spin it, gas should be regulated but criminals keep getting away with billion upon billions in profits. How can you say we aren’t raising the price of gas that we need the money when every year these oil companies make so much money. Well the government thinks we are stupid and tell us certain things and we believe it. Don’t believe all the crap they tell you the reason why gas is up. Its plain old price gouging.

    • By Alex on January 16, 2013 at 12:29 am

      When demand goes up, generally prices go up. Either you’re using skewed logic or you made a typo.

  11. By Jordan on June 29, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    I hope everyone here realizes that the president has absolutely zero control over the price of gasoline

  12. By Savvycat on August 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    There’s a logical fallacy to this as it doesn’t show the wild trends. In 2007 and 2008, gas swung wildly up over $5.00 a gallon. The first wild swing the airlines instituted a fuel surcharge. When it backed down, the riches they enjoyed had to be given back. On the next swing, the one that went over $5, they came up with the baggage fee. I remember saying to my boss at the time that they did it so they didn’t have to take it back when the price came back down. Sure enough, baggage fees are now the norm.

    For them to try to tie this to administration without acknowledging the record highs and lows during the period is factually, intellectually, and journalistically dishonest. The fact remains that the president has zero to do with gas prices, and people like Michele Bachmann who said she could bring them back down to $2 is an outright, bald-faced lie.

  13. By zestyguy87 on October 17, 2013 at 8:36 am

    all spoken in these blogs like true republicans….

  14. By Diana on December 25, 2013 at 1:26 am

    I compared the largest gas prices spikes with events that happened in those years. IN 2005 there was a 1 dollar raise and that was to pay for Hurricane Katrina which was the most costly hurricane in US history. In 2008 bush bailed out the banking industry for a total of 700 billion. That was a 1.50 gas price hick and that was when gas went past 4 a gallon.

  15. By Bart DeRemer on June 21, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    In july of 2008 oil hit $145.39, gas avg went up $0.42, oil has since beem hanging around at $90 range with occasional dip into 80s and jumps over 100 but fas keeps going up even at oil prices the same when gas was under $2.50.

  16. By Leon Puissegur on September 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Guess what people, the United States could produce its own fuel, gasoline and any other oil product without using a single drop from any other country! Our nation has over 3 TRILLION barrels of oil with at least half of that recoverable, yet Obama will not allow that to be drilled! Now we would also need about 100 more refineries to refine this oil which would make the United States totally independent of any nation with our Own oil! But once again, Obama and his “gifted” ones in the EPA will not allow this just so they can have their little wind and solar renewable energy! Both which could never be equal to just one natural gas fired plant! To give a quick comparison, one Natural Gas fired plant taking up just about 20 acres can provide energy to some 5 million homes, while winds mills would take up maybe several square miles to produce just half of that and solar would take about 3 times that amount of space to equal one natural Gas fired generating plant! Now with this in mind, it is very real that natural gas of which the united States has over 600 years of supplies, would be the most efficient and less environmentally obstructive power!

    • By 10AE on September 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      The oil companies have said for years they have no plans to build new refineries.
      It would be utterly foolish and shortsighted to use up our reserves of oil first.

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