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Jared Hunt column: Americans adjusting to $3-plus gas prices

Like it or not, Americans appear to be growing somewhat more accustomed to $3-plus gasoline prices, according to a survey released last week from AAA.

The national travel group found that about half of U.S. adults, 53 percent, are doing something to offset high gas prices.

That’s down 9 percentage points from the 62 percent who were modifying their spending and travel behaviors to offset prices in the firm’s 2013 survey.

“Many people seem to be feeling less pressure to make significant changes in their lives on account of high gas prices,” AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet said in a news release. “Less expensive gasoline may encourage people to drive more and worry less about the financial burden of filling up their tanks.”

While gas prices have risen this spring — as part of the annual switch to the cleaner-burning summer blend of gasoline — the increase hasn’t been as bad as years past. AAA said the national average might not even reach $3.65 a gallon this year. Even if it did, that would still be nearly 15 cents less than the peak price in 2013 and 30 cents less than 2012.

AAA credited increased refinery production and supplies for keeping a lid on prices recently.

Though gasoline prices remain entrenched above the $3 level, consumers appear to be taking it in stride.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported gasoline demand increased 1.1 percent in 2013 — the largest annual increase since 2006. The Federal Highway Administration estimated the total amount of vehicle miles traveled 2013 increased by about 18.1 billion miles compared to the year before.

Among those who were changing behaviors to offset prices, 84 percent said they drove less, 68 percent cut back on shopping or dining out, 52 percent delayed major purchases, 49 percent switched to a more fuel-efficient vehicle and 42 percent put aside less money for savings.

The survey also found a generation gap among those changing their behavior.

Younger adults, those aged 18-34, were more likely to offset prices by working closer to home than those over 35. Sixty percent of young adults chose to work closer to home compared to 34 percent of older adults. Young adults are also more likely to carpool (49 percent vs. 23 percent) and use public transportation (32 percent vs. 11 percent) compared to their elders.

While fewer adults are making changes to adjust to gas prices, it doesn’t mean people are still happy about the current pump price.

“Many drivers grudgingly realize that paying more than $3.00 per gallon for gasoline is the new normal, but they remain frustrated with the price,” said Darbelnet.

The number of people who said they believe gas prices are too high at $3 a gallon dropped slightly from last year (40 percent vs. 46 percent). But the number of people who said the price was too high at higher levels actually went up this year. Sixty-five percent said gas is too high at $3.50 a gallon compared to 61 percent in 2013.

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