Gas prices in the U.S. just reached two new unfortunate milestones: The average gallon of regular now costs over $4.50 nationally, and prices exceed $4 in every state in the country.
Gas costs hit their latest record high on Tuesday, reaching an average of $4.52 per gallon around the country, according to AAA. That's up from $4.48 on Monday and $4.37 a week ago.
Twelve months ago, gas cost an average of $3.05 per gallon, effectively increasing 50% in one year. For the first few months of 2021, gas prices were under $3, and they had dropped well below $2 in the summer of 2020, when people largely remained homebound during the pandemic and demand cratered.
Right now marks the first time that average gas prices in America have ever topped $4.50. Prices rose at the fastest pace ever recorded earlier this year, when Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused global oil prices to soar and the surge in wholesale costs translated to more pain at the pump for drivers. Gas prices retreated back below $4 a gallon in most states in early April, but then crept up to a new record high of $4.37 last week. And prices have just kept climbing since then, thanks to persistently high oil prices and a seasonal switch to more expensive summer blends of gasoline.
High prices for energy — and oil and gas in particular — have contributed significantly to the country's overall inflation rate, which was recently measured at a 40-year high. In a poll last week, Americans named inflation as the country's biggest problem right now.
While gas prices are nominally at their most expensive levels ever in the U.S., the true cost of gas has been higher in the past after adjusting for inflation. The average stood at $4.11 per gallon in July 2008, which is the equivalent of about $5.40 today.
Where gas prices are most (and least) expensive
As usual, the West Coast is where gas prices are highest, largely because of local taxes and regulations. Gas prices in California were averaging just over $6 a gallon ($6.02 to be precise) on Tuesday, while drivers in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Nevada and Oregon are all paying $5 or more for regular gas.
The states with the cheapest gas are Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma. Average gas prices in these three states were under $4 on Monday, but they all crossed the threshold as of Tuesday.
Gas prices generally trend upward in the spring and early summer, coinciding with the kickoff of road trip season. Combine with that continued international tension, high global oil prices and strong consumer demand, and it adds up to the likelihood that prices will go even higher in the days ahead.
“New records continued to be set on a near daily basis" last week, Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis as the gas price-tracking app GasBuddy, said in a Monday blog post. "Prices later this week could be closer to $5 per gallon than $4, as demand continues to edge higher and inventories of both gasoline and diesel continue to decline, temperatures warm and motorists get back outside and we near the Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer driving season."