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Why $4.47 gas in Mississippi hurts more than $6.37 gas in California

<i>Rogelio V. Solis/AP</i><br/>A customer pumps gas at this Ridgeland
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
A customer pumps gas at this Ridgeland

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

No matter where you live in the United States, gas prices are uncomfortably high. Filling up a car for $60, $70 or $80 is a painful experience wherever you are.

But not all Americans are feeling pain at the pump equally.

You might think drivers in California are struggling the most given the average price for a gallon of regular in the state stood at $6.37 on Tuesday, $1.45 above the national average. But that’s probably wrong.

That’s because paychecks in California are significantly higher than much of the country. Californians make $37.07 an hour on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% higher more than national average.

Of course, some workers in high-wage states make far less than the average. And it’s possible to find cheaper gas than a state’s average if you look for it.

But we thought a little economics exercise would be telling: Where are drivers feeling the most pain from gas prices? We compared the average gas price and average wage data to show how much Americans in various states need to work to fill up a 15-gallon tank of regular gas.

Using Tuesday’s national average gas price and the May national wage estimate, US drivers are now spending an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes on the job to pay for their 15 gallon fill up. That’s an increase of 38 minutes from Feb. 23, the day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine started sending gas prices soaring.

The state-by-state results, in the expandable chart below, show that the pain from the recent spike in gas prices is being felt everywhere — not just in the handful of states with the highest prices. The state wage information used for this analysis is for April, the most recent data available from the Labor Department, and unlike national wage data, it is not adjusted for seasonal factors.

For example, California workers earning the average wage in the state need to work 2 hours and 35 minutes to buy 15 gallons of regular gas. So, despite an average gas price that dwarfs that of any other state, there are ten states where workers need to spend more time on the job to earn the money they need to fill up.

But in Mississippi, drivers are paying $4.47 a gallon, the third lowest statewide average and well below AAA’s record national average Tuesday of $4.92 a gallon. But because the average hourly wage there is $23.76 (compared to the national average of $31.95), its workers need to stay on the job for 14 minutes longer than their California counterparts to fill up their gas tanks.

Nevada has an unfortunate combination of high gas prices — $5.53 a gallon, the second highest in the nation — and modest wages. The average wage there is $28.17 an hour, 12% below the national average, so Nevada drivers have to work the longest of workers in any state — 2 hours and 57 minutes — to pay for a tank of gas.

Many other states with high gas prices also have higher-than-average wages.

New York drivers are paying $4.94 a gallon, but because they’re paid an average of $35.59 an hour, they have to work only two hours and five minutes for a fill-up, the third shortest time of any state.

Workers in the state of Washington have even higher average pay than those in New York, at $36.74 an hour, allowing them to work only nine minutes longer than their New York counterparts, even though drivers there face an average price of $5.46 a gallon, the fifth highest price in the nation.

The highest recorded average wage is in Washington DC, at $50.72, according to the Labor Department. That gives drivers there the shortest amount of time to be on the job to buy those 15 gallons of regular at an average price of $5.14 a gallon — only an hour and 31 minutes.

Like states’ wage estimates, however, those numbers measure private sector wages, not government employees. Obviously, a large portion of the district’s employees work in the public sector. The DC figure also measures wages only in the city, and not the mix of rural, suburban and urban workers who make up the capital’s workforce.

The average wage paid by businesses in the broader Washington metropolitan area, which includes parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, is $40.97, more in line with the range of statewide averages. Still, workers in that metropolitan area would need the shortest time on the job to fill up in Washington DC itself — an hour and 53 minutes.

The shortest amount of time to work for a fill-up in any state can be found in Massachusetts, where drivers must work 1 hour and 54 minutes to buy their 15 gallons of gas. That’s because the Bay State has the highest average hourly wage in the country — $39.02 an hour, making it somewhat easier to afford paying $5 a gallon.

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