Squeezed at the pump

Last week we noted — OK, gloated over — the demise of the Hummer and other environmentally unfriendly car models. This week, let’s acknowledge the very real human costs of high gas prices, particularly among the rural and poor:

> Anthony Clark, a farm worker from Tchula, says he prays every night for lower gasoline prices. He recently decided not to fix his broken 1992 Chevrolet Astro van because he could not afford the fuel. Now he hires friends and family members to drive him around to buy food and medicine for his diabetic aunt, and his boss sends a van to pick him up for the 10-mile commute to work.

> A trip from Tchula to the nearest sizable town about 15 minutes away can cost him $25 roundtrip — for the driving and the waiting. That is about 10 percent of what he makes in a week.

Incredibly depressing anecdotes aside — and the article contains plenty of them — the broader data paints a troubling picture. Nationally, gas prices are high, but they are below their historical peaks and the economy has mostly been able to absorb the run-up. This is particularly so in the Northeast, where incomes are higher, commutes shorter, and pubic transit better developed.

But due to a combination of poverty, low density, and aging car fleets, gas prices are hammering the rural poor. In Holmes County, Mississippi, residents spend 15.6% of their income on gas. In the long term, structural solutions to this problem will probably include the continued depopulation of rural areas and migration to urban centers. In the short term, people are just going to suffer.

This problem represents, at least in part, a policy failure. Climate change legislation will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. Any equitable — and politically viable — solution will have to address these costs.

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