21% of Minimum Wage Earnings Guzzled by Gas Prices

Filling up costs minimum wage workers in 15 states more than a day’s pay

illustration of stacks of cash. workers stand to the left of the cash, below a circle with text "$7.25." A gas pump is on the right side of the cash. About 20% of the stack of cash is colored red.
Photo:

The Balance / Proud Taranat

The average national price of regular gas eats up almost 21% of weekly paychecks for full-time employees earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, a new analysis from The Balance has found.

The study examined the price of regular gasoline, and how much it would cost to fill up each week, based on Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gasoline consumption data. Examining gas prices and their impact on a state-by-state level, the analysis found that full-time workers earning the minimum wage in Wyoming, Texas, Mississippi, and North Dakota will spend over 25% of their weekly pay to fill up their gas tanks.

While the rising cost of gas is hurting everyone’s wallets, workers earning the minimum wage (who are often less likely to be able to work from home) are suffering the most as filling up at the pump eats more and more of their paycheck.

Key Takeaways

  • Workers earning the minimum wage are hurt the most by the rising cost of gasoline.
  • Filling up a tank of gas costs workers earning the minimum wage in 15 states over a day’s worth of pay.
  • Workers earning median wages spend nearly 7% of their pre-tax pay on gas.

Workers earning median full-time wages spend just under 7% of their weekly pre-tax earnings on filling up their car’s gas tank, but drivers in southern and midwestern states spend 9% of the median pre-tax paycheck on gas. Only drivers in New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. can purchase gas for less than 5% of their weekly median full-time pay before taxes.

National gasoline prices have surged past $5 a gallon for the first time in history, and higher gas costs are consuming incomes at sobering rates.

Drivers in 15 states spend more than a day’s worth of their minimum wage pay to buy a week’s worth of gas. In Wyoming, drivers earning the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will spend 10.7 hours of pay to buy a week’s worth of gas.

But even if workers are making more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, gas prices are still eating up a large portion of paychecks. In West Virginia, where the minimum wage sits at $8.75 per hour, full-time workers earning minimum wage have to trade roughly a  full day’s wages (eight hours) to buy a week’s worth of gas.

While there are some outliers, drivers working in states with higher minimum wages are less impacted by the higher gas prices, even if the cost of gas in the state is higher than the national average.

In Washington state, where the minimum wage is $14.49 and gas prices sit at $5.56 a gallon, on average, those earning minimum wage only need to work 3.7 hours to afford a week’s worth of gas.

While the federal minimum wage has not changed from $7.25 an hour since July 2009, the average cost per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has more than doubled in that same time period—from around $2.50 in July 2009 to over $5 in June 2022.

If you’re looking to keep the price of gas from draining your wallet, the Department of Energy suggests several driving and car maintenance tips that can help cut consumption:

  • Drive sensibly and avoid aggressive driving: Speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking can lower your highway gas mileage by 15% to 30% and your city mileage by 10% to 40%.
  • Slow down: After 50 miles per hour (mph), gas mileage drops fast. Every 5 mph over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.34 per gallon of gasoline. 
  • Get regular maintenance and keep your tires inflated: Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by more than 40%.

Methodology

The gas prices in this article reflect per-gallon regular unleaded figures sourced from AAA on June 13, 2022. Data regarding weekly gasoline consumption by state was imputed from the annual highway and non-highway private and commercial combined gasoline and gasohol consumption per licensed driver sourced from the FHWA’s 2019 Highway Statistics series, tables MF-21 and DL-201. (2019 data was used instead of 2020 FHWA data—the most-recent available data as of writing—due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2020 gasoline consumption.) State minimum wages were sourced from the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and reflect wage rates on Jan. 1, 2022. States with no minimum wage requirement were given the federal minimum wage as a minimum. State median hourly wage data was sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey for all occupations.

Research and analysis by
Adrian Nesta
Adrian Nesta, Research Analyst on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash
Adrian Nesta is a research analyst on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash, the digital publisher that owns and operates The Balance. His work includes data collection, cleaning, analysis, and visualization for stories in the data journalism portfolio across every vertical at Dotdash.
Was this page helpful?
Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Economic Policy Institute. “Not Everybody Can Work From Home.”

  2. AAA. “National Average Gas Prices.”

  3. Department of Energy. "Driving More Efficiently."

  4. Energy and Environmental Analysis, Inc. "Owner Related Fuel Economy Improvements," Page 4-5.

  5. AAA. “State Average Gas Prices.”

  6. Federal Highway Administration. “Highway Statistics 2019.”

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. “Consolidated Minimum Wage Table.”

  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.”

Related Articles