We’ll take any little economic break we can get.
That’s the thought that was going through the minds of many Letcher County residents this week as gasoline prices fell to the lowest level seen in many weeks. While the $3.49 that a gallon of regular gas was selling for here Tuesday may not seem all that cheap, it’s a downright bargain when compared to gas prices across much of the rest of Kentucky, where the current average is $3.59 a gallon, and the nation, where the price has dropped to $3.61.
News of the nearly 10 cents-per-gallon price drop — along with predictions by industry observers that prices could fall another 10 cents to 20 cents before the end of August —comes as a welcome respite in a county that has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in Kentucky (13.8 %). While lower gas prices may not do much to put the 1,932 Letcher County residents (most of them coal miners) who have lost their jobs since July 2011 back to work, it does provide needed relief to the nearly 1,100 Letcher residents who are required to get out and look for work in order to be eligible to continue receiving jobless benefits.
The cheaper gas is also a big help to the dozens of coal miners who face the unenviable task of leaving their families behind in Letcher County during weekdays while they make a 12-hour roundtrip commute to new mining jobs in western Kentucky. The same is true for hospital workers, teachers and others who must leave Letcher County each day for jobs they hold elsewhere in the mountains.
As usual, however, this week’s good news concerning lower gas prices also comes with one big “IF” that could leave us all shaking our heads in disgust.
“The last two weeks have seen some large drops in oil prices and gasoline spot prices — a very exciting thing to see in the middle of the summer driving season,” explains Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst with the Internet site GasBuddy.com. “There is also the possibility for further declines IF [emphasis added] we don’t see a hurricane or geopolitical tensions ruin things.”
In other words, gas prices should continue to fall significantly during the next few weeks unless the price manipulators on Wall Street and the multinational corporations that hire them find ways to use the threat of violence in Iraq or a tropical storm in the United States to help them get even more filthy rich than they already are.
Hopefully, we in Letcher County can continue to enjoy some of the nation’s lowest gas prices for at least the rest of 2014. While doing so, we might also think of tipping our caps to the gasoline stations and distributorships that serve our county, including Whitesburg-based Childers Oil Company, for keeping their profit margins low during a time when so many are suffering economic hardship.