How much do you work to buy a gallon of gas?

The mythical average American had to work 8.7 minutes this month to pay for a gallon of gasoline.

The value of this factoid, served up this week by the Oil Price Information Service, will be determined by your personal reaction.

You may find pleasure in learning that if you are “average” in Maryland or Virginia the work time it takes you to pay for that gallon of petrol is far shorter. Marylanders, who were judged to make 56 cents a minute, earned their gallon of gas money in 6.1 minutes, the fastest time in the nation. Virginia ranked fifth, just a hair under 7 minutes. The District came in eighth at almost 7.5 minutes.

You may be distressed, however, if you discover you make less than the average wage calculated by the OPIS ($33.30 an hour in Maryland, $28.50 in Virginia and in the District), because you’ll have to work longer for that gallon.

Or you may be a K Street lobbyist, ranking in the cash so fast that the price of a gallon is earned in a snap of the fingers.


This month, the average American had to work 8.7 minutes to pay for a gallon of gas. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

And, finally, you may conclude it’s all pointless statistical voodoo.

Does it help to know that the global average is 35 minutes of work to buy a Big Mac, or that the burger is earned in 10 minutes in Japan but 97 minutes in Colombia? That the average American worked 26 minutes to pay for a pound of steak in 1969, but that same pound came for just 9 minutes labor by 2007? That the average German works 861 hours to buy a car and 32 hours to buy a television?

The price of gas and the cost of beef bounce around all year long. Cars and television come in all sizes and vastly different price tags.

The work-per-gallon of gas does become a more useful metric when used to compare one year against the next. People in Maryland are working about 70 seconds more to buy a gallon this year than they were last. In the District the time worked jumped this year by about a minute and 15 seconds, and in Virginia it was up by about a minute and 20 seconds.

If the math seems daunting and the image of minutes worked to buy gas doesn’t click, you might just take a look at the gas pump.

The cost for a gallon of regular has gone up 61 cents in the Washington metro region since this time last year. It’s up by 65 cents in the District, 63 cents in Virginia and 61 cents in Maryland.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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