When the U.S. economy began to sour last year, consumers across the nation began to cut back on one major expense they could control: gasoline.
The results have been dramatic. Pump prices topped out at over $4 a gallon in July, based on nationwide averages, and then dropped like a boulder falling off a cliff. This week, the average per-gallon price of gasoline in Missouri was $1.75, a bargain economists had predicted we would never see again.
Many motorists say the lower gas prices are a silver lining in the financial mess that has virtually brought the U.S. economy to its knees. Consumer purchasing is way down, unemployment is up and going higher and federal bailouts and economic incentives of over a trillion dollars this year don't seem to be making a dramatic difference.
Lower gas prices in the U.S. are the result of much more than a hiccup in the U.S. economy. Oil prices have crashed worldwide because demand is dropping around the globe. Oil-producing nations anticipated growing demand for petroleum products in the two most populous countries, China and India, would more than make up the slowdown in U.S. consumption. But the financial meltdown has dampened forecasts, and prices per barrel of oil continue to drop.
Until Stevie's Burgers recently took over the space on Broadway in Cape Girardeau formerly occupied by a service station, motorists regarded the signs advertising fuel for under $2 a gallon as a relic of the past that we wouldn't ever see again. Now those signs could be put up at any area service station and be right on target.
What happens next to fuel prices remains to be seen, but American consumers are continuing to use less gasoline -- fearing, perhaps, another swing back to $4 a gallon could occur just as quickly as this year's precipitous drop.