Well, gas still costs $3.50 a gallon, and the price of a barrel of oil, last week close to $80, still is four times what it was all of six years ago. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, consider that in the half-dozen years of the housing boom, residential home prices rose only 125 percent, whereas oil prices, even now, are 300 percent higher than they were six years ago. So the energy issue is still here. Remember the winter after Katrina, when home-heating-fuel prices caused an uproar? This winter they are likely to be much higher.
When the new president takes office, high energy costs will be — as they are already — a drag on the economy, one that is becoming conflated with the credit crisis. Last month, the U.S. auto industry sold fewer than one million cars — its slowest sales rate in 15 years. Tight credit and high gas prices each contributed to that. There is no way to completely unravel the two, but here is one fact: In the early part of this decade, when oil was cheap, Americans spent only 2 percent of their income on gasoline. Recently they have been spending about 4.5 percent — more than twice as much. And you can bet that the percentage is higher among families with lower incomes.